There are some memories so powerful, it’s as if they make a home in your brain.
I picture those screen-captures of time finding a spare corner in the skull, dropping their luggage on the floor and rolling out a sleeping bag. Pretty soon, the more persistent memories even build a little hut in your head, and hammer down a mailbox to show they’re sticking around.
That must have happened in the late 1970s when I took a bus ride to the new multi-storey shopping mall in Parramatta, a “Westfield” at the centre of the growing western suburbs of Sydney, Australia.
I’d been given some music over the last few years as I started showing an interest, but this day was special: It was me going to the record store myself, and getting something with my money — my first album that said something about what I wanted to hear as a kid nearing the end of primary school (US: “elementary”).
My two sisters had already started accumulating albums, mostly vinyl and played on the family wall-side cabinet unit that dominated the upstairs lounge room. I vividly recall ABBA playing daily in the house those years, and certainly some Roxy Music and Queen. There were plenty of “Ripper” compilations too — a peculiarly best-selling compilation of hits in Australia during the 70s that I prefer to forget thanks to provocative cover art!
Palings was the store in Westfield that I preferred to browse in, located on the ground floor near the supermarket. I’d go in, flick through the vinyl and check out the tapes on shelving above to see what had come in, and what was on special.
That day, I found a tape by Talking Heads, and couldn’t let it go. The name sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite remember their music. The tracks didn’t prompt any memories, and all I knew was they looked arty or at least imaginative when I looked through the cover image on the vinyl and tape.
The price was good — probably less than $8 at the time — and it had an additional appeal being something I could play in my bedroom rather than wait my turn for the family machine.
I paid for the tape, put it in my bag and got back on the bus.
The moment I got home, I unwrapped the cassette, carefully placed it in an old hand-me-down tape player in my room and pressed hard on the stiff play button.
I was hooked, and surprised at the same time that the song grabbed me so fast.
There was a guitar and some sort of keyboard, drums, a bass — especially a riff that felt new but somehow familiar.
The vocals were something strange, sort of strained or worried, even anxious.
“Oh, baby you can walk, you can talk just like me.
With a little practice, you can walk like, talk just like me.
If that’s what you want to do.”
— Thankyou for sending me an angel, Talking Heads, 1978
The band was like nothing I’d never heard of, and yet dressed and carried themselves like they were me — introverted, serious, though unremarkable.
They had a woman playing prominently, and the guy out front — David Byrne — was like he was singing to me alone.
Besides all that, their music was captivating.
Best of all, I seemed to be the only person in my class at school that even knew about the band.
They quickly became MY band, different — like me; quiet and sort of lonely — also familiar as a quiet Catholic boy surviving Sydney in the 70s. Finally, I had something that I had discovered before anyone I knew.
And in a way, it was my secret that sparked a love of new music to this day.