A few years ago, I began to experience a phenomenon I call “song-induced nostalgia,” or “S.I.N.” The first time I had S.I.N., I was in the mall. I heard the song “More Than This” by Roxy Music and all of a sudden, I was back in college dancing at a party. I don’t mean that I remembered being in college and dancing to that song, because I remembered that all the time. I mean, I was in college and dancing to that song.
It was the most bizarre sensation, like when I experienced my first earthquake living in Southern California. I thought it was cool: “Whoooooa! A second ago, I was over THERE, and now I’m over HERE!” Kind of like that, only without the violence that registers on the Richter scale, and the distance transported was not measured in inches, but years.
To my delight, this continued to happen. A song would play, and my insides felt like they did when those songs were first present in my life. The insecurities, hopes and feelings were of a that girl, not this married mother of three. It was really the coolest sensation. Even if the time in my life the song evoked wasn’t a happy one, I loved it.
Foreigner’s “Waiting For a Girl Like You” threw me back into longing and wondering if any boy would ever, ever think I was pretty enough to kiss. “Imagine” brought me immediately to the day John Lennon died and I was commiserating outside Mrs. Seagal’s typing class with my friend who worshiped the Beatles as much as I did. “The Logical Song” by Supertramp made me 10 years old again, wandering the roads of Buck’s Rock Summer Camp in 1979, on my way to the ping-pong tables after dinner. Anything by Joe Jackson or Peter Gabriel, and suddenly I was a newlywed again, driving anywhere we felt like going.
I was certain I’d found the magical pathway back to my youth! What with modern marvels like iTunes and iPhones, I could download these individual songs with ease and relatively little cost, and listen to them whenever I wanted! Genius! I whipped them onto a playlist, and listened to them whenever I was in the car.
After a while, though, I noticed S.I.N. began to fade away. Each time one of the songs came on, it seemed that I had to work a little harder to travel back in time, rather than it just happening on its own. Pretty soon, the song would be halfway finished before I even realized it, and I found myself going nowhere fast.
What happened? It was as if whatever threads that connected that song to that time in my life broke away from its original association and re-attached itself to my life as it is now.
My 44-year-old, minivan-driving, mothering, suburban life. Don’t misunderstand, I adore my life — but when I hear “Carry On, My Wayward Son,” I want to be transported back to the stage of Edward R. Murrow H.S., dancing in Senior Sing with Nicole belting out the song, not preoccupied with my to-do list or my own wayward children.
I decided not to download any more songs that produce S.I.N. Clearly, I had abused the effect to the point I could no longer really experience it. This made me sad — my secret passageway was seemingly locked.
And then one Sunday night, driving home from the grocery store, I turned on the radio and heard Casey Kasem’s familiar voice. Apparently, the local radio station played American Top 40 reruns from the '70s and '80s on Sunday nights.
And then it happened again.
Casey started talking about long-distance dedications, and all of a sudden I was 13 years old, wondering if any of them were going to be for me. I heard Ashford and Simpson singing “Solid as a Rock” and I was at a party dancing with my friends. When Casey introduced Culture Club, I was in my best friend Rachel’s room, painting our nails.
I know better now. S.I.N. is only to be experienced occasionally — like a rare delicacy or a special gift. I’m not driving in my car on Sunday evenings very often, but when I do, I turn on the radio and listen to old American Top 40s. Casey will always play at least one song that takes me back to a time when I had my whole life in front of me. And there’s no sin in that.