When I was just starting out in music, I had this funny idea that I thought about a lot. I had noticed that smells, especially rare ones – an unfamiliar brand of soap in the shower of a seldom-visited relative, certain wood smells that some rooms give off, a shampoo on a cute girl’s hair – these seldom-encountered smells could set off an explosion of memories in my mind when I’d come upon them randomly.
So in my mind I started to design a “personal time machine” which would be a wooden box with racks of many sealed test-tubes in it. You’d keep the box in your room. Each test-tube would be a very particular aromatic essence, which you would open for a season, and then seal it again for, say, twenty years. Then, after the time had passed, you could open the test tubes in sequence and go on an insanely intense olfactory tour of your life. It would be better than drugs.
For a while I thought this idea could be a fantastic gift item or toy; maybe I could manufacture Personal Olfactory Time Machines and sell them. But when I thought more carefully about it, I realized that there were two reasons this product could never be sold. First, who wants to buy something which only pays off twenty years later?
Second, we already have this thing and it’s done with sounds instead of smells and they’re called called pop songs.
Gold, a member of The Five One, sent me a really nice e-mail about “Closing Time,” which his band had recently re-interpreted for themselves. He said that the song was almost like family to his band. Here is part of my reply:
“Your comments about ‘Closing Time’ being ‘like family’ are so gratifying to me. Entertaining people is a great way to make a living, but inspiring people and especially other musicians is something way more powerful and meaningful to me. I used to wonder if any of my songs could ever become ‘the’ song of a season or event for somebody, the way ‘Pump It Up’ by Elvis Costello will always bring me back to a weeklong visit I made to a friend in New York when I was eighteen, or “Hey Hey My My” by Neil Young will always put me back in the car I’d drive to my job the summer before that…”
I used to wonder, but now I know: some of my songs have played that part in people’s lives. What a trip.
Still, even if songs are great time travel devices, I still think the Personal Olfactory Time Machine would be cool.