Songs Addressing Memories Mediated by Photographs

The Kinks

The Kinks album “Village Green Preservation Society” is a sort of concept album that deals most prominently with nostalgia as rooted in space, time, and media (specifically photographs). Two songs are especially worth including here as they grapple with our motives for taking photographs as well as the power that old photos have over us in the present to elicit strong emotions.

Picture Book

Some pertinent lyrics:

Picture yourself when you’re getting old,
Sat by the fireside, a-pondering all.
Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago.
Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long ago.

A picture of you in your birthday suit,
You sat in the sun on a hot afternoon.
Picture book, your mama and your papa, and fat old Uncle Charlie out boozing with their friends.
Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast in sunny Southend.
Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago.

People Take Pictures of Each Other

Lyrics:

People take pictures of the Summer,
Just in case someone thought they had missed it,
And to proved that it really existed.
Fathers take pictures of the mothers,
And the sisters take pictures of brothers,
Just to show that they love one another.

You can’t picture love that you took from me,
When we were young and the world was free.
Pictures of things as they used to be,
Don’t show me no more, please.

People take pictures of each other,
Just to prove that they really existed,
Just to prove that they really existed.
People take pictures of each other,
And the moment to last them for ever,
Of the time when they mattered to someone.

People take pictures of the Summer,
Just in case someone thought they had missed it,
Just to proved that it really existed.
People take pictures of each other,
And the moment to last them for ever,
Of the time when they mattered to someone.
Picture of me when I was just three,
Sucking my thumb by the old oak tree.
Oh how I love things as they used to be,
Don’t show me no more, please.

Do You Remember Walter?

Yes people often change, but memories of people can remain.

This is interesting to think about and probably familiar – memories are stuck in time, they are reminders that once things were a certain way. They are proof, in a way, of the past… but this proof is made all the more real when we think about it in terms of digital media. Now it’s not only the memory you have of your ex-partner but also the pictures on Facebook, the email log, the text message log, and so on and so forth, that continue to uphold proof of their existence. For a bad memory or something you’d like to forget, this seems like a bad thing. But think then of a fond childhood memory. I’m thinking now of being with my family when I was young and we were a real family unit having fun together – a million images are flashing through my mind (which would be all the more powerful and vivid if I had photographs in front of me, digital or analog), like eating on our back porch or watching a movie or arriving at the beach – and how the memories of that time are preserved in a good (though definitely melancholy) way through photographs. Now, my family is split up and we won’t have those moments again – and sometimes I despair and think about how unfortunate it is that things are the way they are. But then looking through photographs helps me to remember in ways that my feeble mind just can’t match that we were a happy family for a few moments in time, that I did have that connection and community that somewhere inside I can remember.

Does it matter whether these mediated memories are connected to digital or analog sources?

Scott Walker

Rosemary

Pertinent Lyrics:

Voices from a photograph
Laugh from your wall
Scream through your dreams
Wake up Rosemary and wipe your teary eyes

Rise and cross the cold bare floor
And watch the moon through frosted glass
Damn that photograph
I’ll have to take it down

Look at the photograph
Dream back last summer
Dream back the lips
Of that traveling salesman, Mr. Jim

He smelled of miracles
With stained glass whispers
You loved his laughter
You tremble beneath him once again.

This song is a somewhat frightening portrayal of the intensity of the memories that can be evoked by a photograph, and how they can almost bring past events into the present.

Daniel Johnston: Some Things Last a Long Time

Your picture
Is still
On my wall
On my wall
The colors are bright
Bright as ever
The red is strong
The blue is true
Some things last a long time
Some things last a long time
Your picture
Is still
On my wall
On my wall
I think
About you
Often
Often
I can’t forget all the things we did
Some things last a long time
Some things last a long time
It’s funny
But it’s true
And it’s true
But it’s not funny
Time comes and goes
All the while
I still think of you
Some things last a long time
Your picture
Is still
On my wall
On my wall
The colors
Are bright
Bright
As ever
Things that we did
All we forget
Some things last a life time
Some things last a life time

//EC

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