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How Memory Gives Us Each a Soundtrack All Our Own

Most of the best—and some of of the worst—moments in my life are all tied to music somehow—from that first adolescent thrill of rock and roll to the velour-smooth glide of the doo-wop my parents loved to the liberating, sexy exhibitionism of disco inviting your body to do whatever it feels good to do.

Then later on, the crying in the rain allure of all those sad songs hit me, so that long before anyone ever broke my heart, I couldn’t wait to know how incredibly good and impossibly bad being in love could make you feel.

Each genre seems to provide its own airwave I can tune to my mood—like rolling through the call letters of every Southern Colorado station spinning the dirtwise wisdom of country on the drive up from Alamosa to Leadville; or like taking in that last spring powder day in the A-Basin parking lot, when the swaying seaweed sound of The Grateful Dead seems to roll like lilting waves from every car, so that before you even load the lift, there’s that rhythm in your body.

Live for Live

My old college friend Chris, who lives in Connecticut and was raised in New Jersey, loves music so much he once told me, “Sometimes I have to start listening to the same song five or six times before I feel like I’m concentrating enough on hearing the first few notes.”

He posts eulogies on social media for all the sonic giants when it’s their time to ride the refrain up to the jukebox in the sky. Then he lists their greatest hits and breakthrough style (like Jerry Lee Lewis beating the keys out of his piano, “Goodness gracious great balls of fire!”) so you can go right to Soundcloud and cue up the eternal encore.

At school, he had a “Live Music is Better” sticker on his door. And even now, living so close to New York City, he’s seen more amazing shows than most—from funk to jam bands to so many legends of soul.

That sticker gets it right, too. Because if you haven’t heard a song you love live, you don’t know all the places that song can go.

I once heard Jimmy Cliff sing “Many Rivers to Cross” at Red Rocks to the accompaniment of only a piano, his voice so pure and clear in the mountain air it was like he was sharing a celestial guide to navigating the highs and lows of the world.

I’m sure it wasn’t the first time someone had that kind of revelation at a classic Red Rocks reggae show.

It’s the Flow

Every song takes you on a journey. The great ones make you feel like that journey was a road map written just for you—like “Born to Run,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Freebird,” or “American Girl.”

Like the way I remember the summer my other Connecticut buddy Billy and I spent chasing The Grateful Dead across the East Coast, from Hartford to Worcester to New Jersey’s Meadowlands, where we didn’t even have tickets but somehow found ourselves flailing to “Not Fade Away” in the 10th row.

I’d really like to be standing in the audience at a concert right now.

Despite what I wrote on these same pages 12 months ago, when the pandemic finally gave us a chance to “re-find” ourselves, I didn’t get out as much as I wanted to. The lovely red-haired girl from Cherry Creek and I still had the “willies” about being in a crowd.

Not anymore.

Now I can’t wait to be surrounded by people moving to the music and collective energy of a sound they can both hear and feel—songs to sing along to, which I can learn, or words I already know.

The More You Hear, The More You Feel

It’s been a long winter. Wonderful with all the snow. And I’m ready to stand in the sun again, listening to music, wearing a lot less clothes.

Especially newer music, from artists and bands still growing into the bloom of their certified legend years—especially in Colorado—like Nathaniel Rateliff, Willie Nelson’s boy Lukas, Brandi Carlile, and Jason Isbell.

Even the older radio playing in my head likes to freshen up the playlist once in a while. New music, like hope, love, and—definitely—anticipation, springs eternal.

Here’s to all of us hearing some new sounds—and thinking some new thoughts—that we’ll keep rewinding for years.

—Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “thegreatest ski novel of all time.” Buy it here and read it now:

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