A Time, A Place, A Memory: The Power of Music


Leaves pat down a trail, shrouded in a wonderful green scent awaiting the inevitable rain.


I’ve been listening to “Saving Us A Riot” by Phoria for hours. I turned off the lamp and lay with my forearm across my eyes, earplugs settled in and grew increasingly restless. I was losing awareness of time and place, my mind’s eye splashing image into image in a slowly rotating blur of blues, greens and the dim color of rain.

Upon first listening to the song I immediately closed my eyes. It is the same when preparing to kiss, embrace, smell, or touch a thing with the intent to sear it into my being. Out of the lonely guitar’s strumming and the otherworldly vocals rose an image of myself — a more graceful and lithe image — dancing on a beach paved with smooth round stones under the lurid purple of a cold evening. With the strings arrived the smells, wind and hiss-rattle of waves breaking of a specific memory I’ve carried.

Music is more than mathematical patterns we find pleasing. Music is as much about a time, a place and a rearranging of memories as it is about the emotional world we inhabit. Music is an ocean. Our experiences and humanity are like children held in rapture as our Father gently lowers our feet onto an oncoming wave. It is a sacred thing. Personal, subjective and life altering.

“Save Us A Riot” has held me in this state for hours. When I was stationed at NAS Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest I often ran solo along a trail that followed the contour of the shore. It lead up and around the base turning in on itself under the large cover of tree’s. This song — this magical fucking song — brought everything back to me. A gift layered now in a beautiful music.

There was sharp rain that stung my face as I plowed on, soaked to the bone. I ran with my head angled toward the ocean, enamored by the white chop and foam coursing madly against itself. The sting abated and my legs ate the earth. A smooth rolling motion that held the cold at bay. I’ve always found solace in wild weather. When my emotions were too strong — a thing I couldn’t display as a Sailor — I’d run.

This song with its gentle strumming, vocals like a wind spirit curled on my collarbone and stringed instruments worked into me, elongating my heartbeat to a stretched yearning changed the memory.

I ran hard until the leafy green canopy of the forested end of the trail enveloped me. The rain slowed to a multitudinous drip, from many layered leaf to leaf. Bright green stairs on top of bright green stairs that guided the rain to a thousand miniscule waterfalls. I slowed and walked, crunching over twig and rock, digging my toes into mud for purchase and above me sat a lone bench with an open view of a beleagured cliff, rough surf and grim rocks denying inevitability.

The song altered these memories to a melancholic, beautiful dance. I let it have its way with my memory. My sanctuary at a time when solitude was a strange thing. Like looking at your hands and not recognizing the owner. I rose from this canopy and danced, spinning around a non-existant partner, thrilling in the gray storm, watching myself from above. My arms became the canopy. A fluid movement that brought the rain down my forearms forming rivulets and ending in the warmth of my being.

Music is more than mathematical patterns that we find pleasing. It is a boy shaking it at a pool to the laughter and shared joy of his family. It’s an older couple swaying from left to right foot. Music is an ocean we can hold in wonder or participate in.

“Save Us A Riot” is a piece of music — a song — that once shared by its artists became, even for one night, a part of my world. It became a part of my existence, perceived by internal mechanisms that slowed my breath and drew my energy into a heightened awareness.

Great songs can be more. They can do more than describe a place, a time or a people. Great songs are a place, time and people. These types of songs are iconic because their resonance isn’t a pebble dropped in a pond. It is us, by choice or capitulation allowing the music to resonate enough to move oceans. Songs like “Save Us A Riot” have the power to move.

And as it so happens, I wasn’t the only one to have one of Phoria’s songs inspire: Natasha Kalimada performs to Phoria’s “Once Again.” She does it better than I ever could, even in the oft make-believe world of memory.