Saturday, October 10, 2009

The history of a song

I think I was quite young when I read about CDs first. It was in the early 1980s. The legendary magazine of the Yugoslav youth back in those days was ITD, which published a short article and a picture of the future replacement for cassettes and vinyl records.

In 1986, when my cousin Nino returned from Melbourne where he had spent six months, he didn’t bring any CDs with him (he did bring some records which I devoured), but he brought photographs from all around the city, including photos taken in a mall. One of the stores that he photographed was a CD store. I saw walls with tiers of small square tiles with some discernable album covers on them.

Finally, in the summer of 1990, my cousin Ivona was dating a guy who was working on transoceanic ships, and he had just come back from South Africa, bringing her a CD player and about two dozen CDs. It was the first time I held them in my hands and played music from them. I can’t remember the selection he had brought her – knowing her taste there must have been Billie Holiday, the Beatles, and other jazz and rock classics. One CD was by a band I had never heard about before. The Crusaders. I still don’t know much about them. But one of their songs was and has remained my all-time favourite. It is ‘Soul Shadows’.

I was lying on the couch in my cousins’ living room, with big headphones on, listening to one CD after another. I knew most of the songs, but it was funny and cool to see how quickly and neatly songs could be shifted and traced on the digital display. So, it wasn’t too much about the music.

However, when I played ‘Soul Shadows’ I was overwhelmed. The first time I heard it I was sure it was a very familiar song (it could well have been for it was about ten years old then). I played it over and over again, never getting tired of it. It was one of the brightest moments that summer.

When Nino and I were driving to a new disco club in his ‘71 Mercedes, and when we glided over a slightly undulating road to Ploce (Croatia), the song was frequently playing. It wrapped those moments in a soulfully warm mist.

In September 1990 I went off to Nis (Serbia) to pay my dues to the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia – i.e. to do my year of military service. It was a bleak time. The life of a soldier wasn’t for me, the country was sinking into a disaster beyond repair, and the summer memories of only several months back seemed as romantic, nostalgic and comforting as ever. I would stand by the window in the barracks, watch the late autumn leaves, and sing inside my head --- ‘standing at the window as the fog rolls in, I swear I can hear far off music’. It was one of the few sources of good energy during that year.

When I left the military forces, and when the country went to hell, ‘Soul Shadows’ had remained a song that was a charger of positive atmosphere. I even introduced myself with it at the beginning of a few relationships I was in. Now I am trying to write a book of fiction, and I have already written the bit in which the main character is caught unawares by this song, and cries his heart out, which I never did. Although I could have.

It’s impossible to say which one’s favourite song of all time is, which the absolute number one is. Usually there are many. My number one is ‘Soul Shadows’ by the Crusaders. It’s not the best song I have ever heard, it’s not the only song which has accompanied me throughout different periods of my life, but for some reason (which is still obscure to me), it IS the song of my life.