Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Woman Who Sang "Caroline"

Angles. Walls. Shadows. Emotions of  yearning, all of these are memories I think I have of being an infant. I say I think I have these memories but who can say what memories are real and which are false? There was a mobile hanging over my crib that had a redbird, a cardinal, as part of the flock that circled endlessly and one day I discovered it on the floor. I tore one of its wings off and bit into the body. There was sand inside of the tiny bird’s body and that was one of the first sensations I remember; grit in my mouth.
    There isn’t a method to reveal if these memories are real or not. There may be one day some device suitable for reading memories but the troubled recall we have now is all there is. Each time a memory is recalled it is changed in some way. Each recollection drives a wedge of fantasy or perception between what really was and what we believe, in a very religious way. We know this, of course, but we cling to the past, all made up in our heads, as if it were words transcribed in solid concrete.

Verifiable evidence makes things better, but it also makes things much worse. In my birthtown of Cuthbert Georgia, there is a statue of a soldier in the town square. We left that place when I was four so I can say with some degree of accuracy I had at least one memory that predates my fourth birthday. I remember when I was thirty-four I went to Cuthbert as part of my work and saw that statue again for the first time in thirty years. Instantly, the statue in the memory was modified, never to return, and the real statue took its place. But you see, now in my mind there is a memory just like there was before. If I went back today the memory would change again. It is never really there but it is also never really gone.

“Like a memory in motion, you were only passing through. That is all that you’ve ever known of life and that’s all you’ll ever do.”

I recalled those lyrics from memory and I am reasonably certain they are exact. I am totally convinced the song is titled, “Caroline” and the name of the group is “Concrete Blonde” and the name of the CD is “Bloodletting” Ah, but the name of the woman who sings “Caroline” escapes me. Her last name, my memory reports to me is Napolitano. I suspect the name isn’t right, exactly but it is close. Close? How can a memory be close? But we all have experienced a memory we know isn’t right but “close” Something like that. I know “Janet” is wrong but “close”.

If you asked me to sing that song, and recorded my efforts, I suspect my sense of timing would be off, and I doubt if I could get the lyrics right. Yet if I play “Caroline” I’ll remember the words as what’s-her-name sings them.  The name hasn’t returned yet.  Let’s say I do not look the name up. Why is it that if I get some friends to send me suggestions as to what her name is, when the correct name arrives, I’ll know it, but not until then? If I did not listen to “Caroline” for thirty years, would I know the name of the woman or the lyrics on my eighty-first birthday?

All things human are fallacious and all things human fail. We are all masters of sinking ships. We can hope to close some gaps and frantically bail, but the woman who sang “Caroline” is a lesson not a lie. Since the song came out in the mid-eighties, I suspect the group “Concrete Blonde” is no more, and unless she is one of those aging rockers who keep plugging away at it, the woman who sang “Caroline” is likely doing something else for a living, or not living at all. Her name… it still escapes me. How much more will I lose before the last wave covers my ashes? The storage unit has a hole in it that leaks reality and lets in moonshine.

If someone from my past was to arrive now, in this future, where are all the memories that represents that person stored and how are they so stored that unless some song, or scene, or chance meeting, pulls forth the mist from the pond, so I might interpret it as my mood demands? The human mind is a graveyard of the past, and we look upon the bones as if they were who we once knew. Someone you once loved and lost, decades removed from your heart and life, can stumble into you at the grocery and suddenly your mind reinvents time as well as reality.  

When I was a little boy photos were imperfect and rare. Not everyone had a camera, not all shots came out, and not all events where worthy of being preserved. Not one photo was taken the night the Titanic sank, no one updated their status or tweeted about the event as it happened. The emotions and horror were recorded only in the human mind and no one lives now who was aboard that boat when it slammed into hardened water. Now children have their own video cell phones and nearly every waking moment can be recorded.  The captured past is stored safely and permanently but time stalks this medium too. I own disks with information on them I cannot retrieve. One day my flash drives will be obsolete. One day my hard drive will be a relic, tossed away, and what you are reading right now, will be some ancient writing method awaiting oblivion, very much like the author, and you.

Damn, I really thought I would remember her name. I have search every name I know, every character in every book I remember (remember!) and nothing. The woman who sang “Caroline” has slipped away. I will see her name and instantly know the truth, but now, at this moment, I see not the past, but the future.

Take Care,


  1. - your memory is just fine, but your search skills need a bit of polishing. :)

    Great write - the edges are nostalgic and bittersweet.

  2. I was trying not to use the internet and just use memory. I got the lyrics okay but Johnette escaped me.

  3. I read of a woman that remembers everything, what she wore/ate/did every day, way back into her childhood. Of course my second ex remembered every slight, real and imagined, but I digress.

    Anyway, I think being able to remember everything would make me nuts. Getting rid of the static and clutter is important, but sometimes an odd memory will pop up, and I’ll wonder why the hell I remember something so trivial.

    Being able to edit/update memories makes for a past I can live with. That’s not to say I bury my screwups, after all the big ones are important to how I make judgments and decisions... who I am.

    1. I have often wondered, Bruce, if women remember more or better than men do. Or perhaps it is they remember no better than we, but they make us think they do.

      But memory is all we have, at the moment, and I wonder if we will ever find a replacement for it

  4. I don’t think women remember better, but I do think they remember different things. They remember social interactions, birthdays, arcane anniversaries, fleeting conversations, etc.
    Men don’t give a second thought to those, because we’ve got what we feel are more important things to remember, like when the oil in the car was changed, what has to be completed before the boss finds out, and stats on every super bowl.

    1. Bruce, this explains it.