Friday, April 14, 2006

Princeton and Nonsuch

Benthoven here with a brief rumination on the powerful connection between music and memory. Whether it evokes images of a particular person, a place, or an event, I would argue that there are few mnemonic triggers as powerful as a song. (Proust would argue in favor of odor, but he doesn't post on this blog...yet.) Often the connections between song and event are obvious. For example, any time I hear The Kaiser Chiefs, I will remember their overlooked performance at Live 8 this past summer. Sometimes they are just incidental, a tune which just happens to be in the background or on the radio when something interesting happens.

And sometimes, these connections are more deliberate. Such was the case last week when I traveled to Princeton to learn more about their graduate programs. In between question and answer sessions with professors and dinner, a few prospective grad students who were more in the know clued me into the glory that is the Princeton Record Exchange, and its vast selection of used CD's. While my new acquaintances scurried off to look at obscure jazz collections, I scoured the shelves of classic rock seeking something new and interesting to listen to on my trip home. Eventually it came down to three albums, and despite my recent interest in The Kinks and my respect for Eric Clapton, I ended up shilling out $5 for Nonsuch, an album by XTC.

Why XTC? I have no idea really...the only things I knew about them were from discussions with Mugshot and a reference in a They Might Be Giants song. ("Beatle based pop vs. new romance!") But, hey the price was right, and the album art looked pretty sweet.

The next day, it was time to head home. I had two options. Hit the highway directly or drive around the campus a little bit more and see some parts I had missed during my short time in town. I chose the latter option and, in a semi-conscious attempt to forge a musical connection to the whole experience, popped the CD into my car stereo as I drove around. Which is why, for better or for worse, the University Bookstore at Princeton will now forever be associated with "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" and why the golf course will provoke comments about how we're the smartest monkeys.

I wonder if any album would have had a similar mnemonic effect or just a well-produced British studio album featuring innovative lyrics and medieval-themed cover art. Check it out :


At 4:56 PM, Blogger Mugshot said...

Benthoven, I commend you for making the leap. Nonsuch is a tough one, and I haven't gotten into the whole thing. But I'm sure that the Ballad of PPH will stay in your brain forever. My second favorite song on that album is Dear Madum Barnum -- an almost-perfect pop song. Ultimately, though, I'm actually sorry that XTC is associated with the infernal Princeton University.

At 12:00 AM, Blogger ryunited and it feels so good said...

Sorry Mugs, I happen to have a real soft spot in my heart for Princeton.

The smartest guy I know is currently learning how to save America there.

At 11:37 PM, Blogger FriedOreo said...

Benthoven: I wrote a similar post in the early days of the Mongrel, about summer albums and memories of summer. And that record store looks awesome. Mugs, despite your distaste for Princeton, we're heading up there next time I'm in Philly to check out that store.

Ryunited: if you're talking about who I think you're talking about, then I, too, have a soft spot for Princeton.


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