Sometime back in 1995, I was browsing a record store (remember those!) at the corner of Ventura Blvd. and Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and I came across a Bing Crosby boxed set called Bing Crosby: His Legendary Years, 1931-1957. I knew who Bing was, of course, and I’d seen one or two of his movies, but I wasn’t yet the fan that I am today. For some reason, despite the fact that the 4-disc boxed set was expensive for me at the time, I decided to buy it.
When I first listened to the music, a few of the songs stood out. Over the years, as I got to know them, they grew on me1. Eventually, I’d spend chunks of time listening to those discs, one after the other. Music has a strange effect on me. Hearing a song–even one I don’t like very much–can instantly transport me back to a time when I heard that song in some context, meaningful or innocuous. It is a kind of time travel, but an emotionally powerful one. But listening to the Bing Crosby boxed set2 has a somewhat different effect on me.
It does transport me back to those days when I lived in Studio City. Hearing certain songs, I feel whisked back to a sunny, mild spring day in Studio City, sitting at a booth in Swenson’s with a half-finished chocolate malt and a book spread out in front of me on the table. Other songs pull me back onto the balcony of my Studio City apartment, sitting under the shade of a tree and watching the cars go by. But more often than not, it does something more, something that no other music I listen to does.
It takes me back to a time that I never lived in.
There are four discs in the box set:
- Disc 1 covers the years 1931-37
- Disc 2 covers the years 1937-42
- Disc 3 covers the years 1942-45
- Disc 3 covers the years 1945-57
When I listen to these discs, I often get the eerie feeling of being transported back to the years in question. It is a kind of glowing-hindsight for the past without ever having been there. Except, I have been there. I’ve listened to my grandfather tell countless stories of growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. I’ve read histories of the time period. I’ve read books on World War II and heard the stories of veterans who went to war and others who stayed home. I’ve listened to people describe growing up in the aftermath of the war, and the boom of the 1950s. And I’ve seen all of the movies. Somehow, all of this mashes itself together in my brain, and like a spark to some primordial stew, the music brings it all to life. I could imagine myself living a life in the 1940s, raising a family in the 1950s. There is a pleasant (and certainly illusory) simplicity to it, as echoed by Bing and Louis Armstrong’s duet, “Gone Fishin’.”
If nothing else, listening to the album reminds me to slow down and take a breath every now and then. It’s been a while since I listened to these albums straight through. But I’m listening this morning.