“This writer had argued that each man in his heart
is a traveller in a boundless landscape.”
— Gerald Murnane, The Plains
BEFORE I LOVED BOOKS I loved music. My future, back then, was very different. It looked like the low-ceilinged tunnels underneath stadiums and it smelled strangely sulfurous. It sounded like guitars, kick drums, and a brass section recorded underwater and played on blown speakers hidden in an empty filing cabinet. This future took shape in 1999, when I was 15. I blame my best friend.
“Let me show you what I made,” he said, slipping a disk and a memory card into the PlayStation. The program — nothing but little bars of soundwaves all stacked on top of one another — turned out to be a track sheet made in MTV’s Music Generator software. I had no idea that I’d come to use this software to compose music over the following year, nor did I know how much I’d come to love composition itself. I also didn’t know that he’d simply strung together a handful of the program’s pre-installed royalty-free loops. All I knew was that whatever he played for me sounded awesome. “I thought we could do this,” he said, like it wouldn’t, over the next three years, ruin our friendship for good.
I’d been creative before that, as an aspiring architect, a child model, an attempted actor, a failed painter, a diligent scientist (or, more accurately, a putter-of-things-in-small-containers), and a writer of absurd stories. Musician seemed like a logical progression. After all I’d just discovered Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails and was just beginning to express myself in unique ways by wearing nail polish or eyeliner, dyeing my hair, and piercing my tongue. Though, to be honest, I can’t definitively say that I ever wore eyeliner to school. In the boys’ parlance, the tongue piercing made me a cocksucker, and in the girls’ the red hair made me even pastier. If I think about it, I can picture the high school, and I can picture the spots where my friends and I congregated in the hallways. In searching for a memory like this, you have to ask yourself what kind of stare a high school-aged intolerant would give you if you looked the part they were supposed to hate. In asking, you find a person you knew, and you contort their face into disgust. Recall this and remember that you wore eyeliner to school. Recall your friend showing off his musical talent and remember how little of it he had.
At first the phenomenon of memory seems like a scratched-up mid-nineties hard drive groaning as it looks for a file, but the brain doesn’t work that way. In the 2007 “Memory and Forgetting” episode of WNYC’s Radiolab, the currently under-fire Jonah Lehrer explains the aspect of memory that makes it truly phenomenal. There’s no file at all:
The act of remembering — on a literal level it’s an act of creation. Every memory is rebuilt anew every time you remember it… What you’re remembering is that memory reinterpreted in the light of today, in the light of now. […] The more you remember something, in a sense, the less accurate it becomes. The more it becomes about you and the less about what actually happened....