(read this quotation aloud)
We see a great many things and can remember a great many things but that is different. We get very few of the true images in our heads of the kind I am talking about, the kind which become more and more vivid for us as if the passage of the years did not obscure their reality but, year by year, drew off another veil to expose a meaning which we had only dimly surmised at first. Very probably the last veil will not be removed, for there are not enough years, but the brightness of the image increases and our conviction increases that the brightness is meaning, or the legend of meaning, and without the image our lives would be nothing except an old piece of film rolled on a spool and thrown into a desk drawer among the unanswered letters.
-Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
What does it mean that in the formlessness of a restless night, while going through the negatives stashed away from all of my childhood, I found frame 001—or at least I think I did—and it was more than an image. It was the memory, distinct and breathing, of my mother's voice, singing to me. That the first memory, and the one that seems to get brighter, is of her voice, resonating in the warm darkness, soft and low and musical.
We like to talk about first memories at my house after dinner on the nights when we're actually all at home—we'll tell our stories and Mom or Dad will try to contextualize them. For the longest time I thought my first memory was from the night John Mark was born—and this disappointed me because I remembered it only because it involved a particularly dramatic accident in my bed. Given the psychological significance often placed on the first childhood memory, I didn't want to think that mine showed such a vulgar lack of self-possession. This other memory, so recently aroused, I think must be earlier because I was alone in the room that my brother and I shared immediately after his birth and I was lying in my crib listening to her song.
So they say you can read your earliest memories like a fortune, in some ways they have bearing on who you become, they reveal your intuitive interests and greatest passions. But perhaps those memories are only awakened through recognition, they resurface in the intensity of their fulfillment, when you realize that something you're doing means a lot to you and has for a long time and that it satisfies you in some deep and inexplicable place.
What does it mean that the first question I ever asked my parents was about “the people inside” of my father's stereo? That I remember sitting on the floor by the speakers, feeling the vibration, and then watching the little green lights on the dial go up and down with the levels of music? That I remember writing songs before I could write, singing them to myself when I was alone over and over and over so I wouldn't forget them?
And what does it mean now that I am driven to sing even more than I am driven to write? That nothing cleanses or satisfies me more? That for every act of surrender, every gift of joy, every vague experience, there is a song? Anything is bearable if it can be put into a song. What does it mean that this is both the most organic and the most sacred thing I do?
What does it mean that this ties into the earliest thing I know about my life?
All these thoughts are new, I think, or maybe they just seem new because they suddenly got brighter when I considered forsaking them. A long time ago I used to have a lot of dreams about music, they got lost somehow for a while. And suddenly I am writing more than ever and they seem brighter.
I don't know.
But I got an image in my head that I never got out... and the image is a sound that I cannot forget.