For the life of me, there have been subjects involving a great deal of memorization — like foreign languages — that I have never been able to learn.
Maybe that’s because an incredible amount of the space in my brain has been devoted to remembering things I never wanted to remember, like titles, artists and even lyrics to nearly every song I heard of the radio between about 1965 and 1975.
Around 1972 or ’73, my friends and I used to go to the Campus Club, a basement beer joint at George Washington University. They rarely had a band, usually just a soundtrack of oldies. One of the games we played was seeing who could identify a new song first. I usually won, and my most shining moment — I can name that tune in one note — came when I got “Light My Fire” by the doors just as it started.
It’s funny how we remember the tiniest of triumphs when we don’t have major ones to remember. It sort of reminds me of the person who said the reason faculty politics are so vicious is that there is so little at stake.
I haven’t played that game it at least 30 years, other than listening to the radio when I’m in the car alone by myself and I have an oldies station on. It might surprise some people who know me, but I listen to Sixties music a lot less than I once did. I almost always still know the song, but there are more times than there once were that the name of the group doesn’t come to mind at all.
The other afternoon I was in the car, and a song with a fairly extensive instrumental lead-in started playing. It didn’t register at first. It certainly wasn’t a major hit by a major group. But all of a sudden, I found myself thinking … “Alice Long,” by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, from ’68 or ’69?
That’s exactly what it was. A song that only got to No. 27 on the Billboard survey in the summer of 1968. A song I never really liked, a song I never really thought much about.
I’ve still got it.
And I still speak only one language.