What is your favorite song?
Google “music and memory research” and there are one hundred sixty-four million hits. But there is perhaps no more immediate proof that certain musical pieces from the past deliver a memory wallop than that moment when a song you’re not expecting starts playing on the radio. The most recent song to stir my memory banks made me smile: “Kiss You All Over,” by Exile. A number one hit in 1978, the synth-pop success never struck me as a particularly good song then. This week when I heard it while driving through the early spring sunshine, the convertible top down and the wind ruffling my hair, my reaction was: “Oh, I love this song.” And I turned up the volume.
In 1978 I had an avocado green touch-tone slimline phone with an extra-long cord in my room. Although not a dedicated teenline, it was a second number at the farm (I’ll always remember these digits: 319.683.2656 (of course don’t call them now—they may belong to someone else)), so it felt like mine. I was not allowed to be on it after 9pm and no one in those days called anyone before 9am, unless it was an emergency or a work/school-related matter. But who called whom after school was an important social register, and I looked forward to hearing that phone ring.
My longest-standing friendship is nearly the length of my lifetime, and it began when a girl finally arrived, after four sons, at the farm adjacent to ours to the west. My mother gave her mother my crib, and since we could talk we’ve said we were crib sisters. Because the district line scrolled weirdly right through our property, my friend and her brothers attended the country school system; my brother and I went into town. Nonetheless, we saw each other weekends and spent much of the un-air-conditioned hot, humid Iowa summers cooling off by floating together in inner tubes on our pond.
My friend—I’m going to call her Aquarius—spent many a night at my house. We’d go to my room and listen to music and sometimes we browsed the phone book. Young people who had their very own phone lines were often identified in the phone book under their parents’ listing as “teenline.” That meant if you dialed such a number you were likely ringing the phone of a teenager in his or her room. If anyone was going to answer, it would be the teen. There were no answering machines, no caller ID, no hold button or call waiting, but there would be a busy signal if the person were already on the line. In those days, you dialed the number and you got the person or you didn’t.
I feel a little chagrined to confess that Aquarius and I found a great deal of delight in making crank calls, specifically to teenlines. We took turns, dialing the numbers, waiting with a catch in our breath for the phone on the other end to ring, hoping that someone would answer. We’d say something we were certain was tremendously provocative, listen for the reaction and then hang up and laugh, our hearts racing.
One night Aquarius, who I suspect is still far braver than I, called a teenline and waited. When a male voice answered, she dropped her line on him. I don’t remember what she said, but the response she got was not an angry slam; it was a groggy, “What?” She looked at me with big eyes and then kinda shrugged and said, simply, “Hi.”
She had caught the attention of our call recipient and they begin to talk. His name was Kurt, and he was a college student, living at home for the summer. Just junior high girls, we were thrilled to talk to this older guy who seemed content to while away some time chatting. We handed the phone back and forth, laughing and talking for some time.
It was not the last time we would call Kurt. The next time we were armed with a list of questions. For years I had the canary yellow legal pages on which we wrote his answers in green ink. Even though I can see the pages like a snapshot, other than his first name, the only thing I can remember is that his favorite song, he said, was “Kiss You All Over.”
Was it really? Or was it just what was playing over and over and over and over on top-40 radio? Aquarius and I listened the next time we heard the song—with five older rock-n-roll brothers between us, we couldn’t imagine a guy who would pick such a schmaltzy pop song as his favorite. But we decided we liked it because Kurt did.
So many years later the song ends and I’m pulling into my destination, awash in memories of Aquarius and farm summers and innovations like push-button phone pads that my children wouldn’t even see as technology. I’m not aware of anything even similar to crank calling in their world, although I supposed “friending” or “following” someone you don’t know might give you a similar opportunity for the thrill of touching a stranger. Then again, today such interactions are discouraged because you don’t know who’s on the other end of the connection or where in the world they might be or whether they are who they say they are. And even though neither one of dials into their favorite station on a clock radio in their room, as I did endlessly during my teenaged years, I am certain, that the music they listen to today will be the music that evokes the Oh yeah, I remember when that happened memories they will cherish a few miles down the road.
Happy new April moon—it’s time to sow seeds, metaphorical and actual. What seeds are you planting? With much love, Rxo