I was sitting with my pup and my coffee one morning last week, listening to a Seattle jazz station, when an old and dear song began playing unexpectedly. Yup, Since I Fell For You. This particular version was done by Bob James, David Sanborn and sung by Al Jarreau. It was nice, but I didn’t like it as well as the original, sung by Lenny Welch, oh, 62 years ago. God how I hate the numbers these days…
My unusual love and response to music, along with a few interesting experiences while playing piano, led me to research music as it affects the brain. What I found, basically, is that music and the sense of smell take the same large channel to our consciousness, activating the largest part of our brain. Finding that didn’t surprise me, as music often stimulates our emotions and even our bodies, in the forms of goose bumps and tears, to name two. Here’s a more accurate account –
“Smells are handled by the olfactory bulb, the structure in the front of the brain that sends information to the other areas of the body’s central command for further processing. Odors take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory.” – The Harvard Gazette
For anyone out there who might think music isn’t a powerful memory stimulant, I invite you to visit my brain for about 30 seconds and feel it nearly explode when certain old songs start playing. My heart feels like it’s hanging on for dear life as emotions and memories flood my being. Not only can an old and much-loved tune catch my breath, reach my heart and activate my tear ducts, it can throw me instantly back in time, sometimes as much as yes, 62 years. (there’s those gd numbers again…) Not only that, but often a whole back story unfolds as I listen to it, Such was the case when Since I Fell For You came floating across the room to me, freezing my fingers on this keyboard and damn near crossing my eyes.
It was the summer of ’61. My best friend, Rick McGregor and I had decided to drive his cool, custom ’48 Chevy down to Tijuana for an interior upgrade, or as we used to say, “a tuck and roll job.” New interiors were cheaper in Mexico and besides, we knew two cute chicks in Reno who we could stop and visit.
Rick & Me in ’61
We rolled into Tijuana around 6 p.m. and found the interior shop Rick wanted. They started on it right away and finished it around 9 the next morning. They did a beautiful job and it looked (and smelled) terrific. Counting our losses over the course of the evening, we had sent two guys out for a case of beer, and they came back with only a half case left, saying that someone “stole” it from them. That and a few basic hand tools were all that were missing when we left the shop the next morning. Rick and I had taken turns napping next to the car while the other stayed awake, keeping the thievery to a minimum.
Getting stopped at the border, the guards instantly saw our new interior and motioned us to pull over to an inspection area, probably for the purpose of charging us some sort of tax for goods leaving their country. We barely had enough money to get back to Montana, so Rick began easing toward to the inspection area and whispered, “Hulse, we can’t afford this. Want to make a break for it?”
I looked at the exit gate, maybe two hundred yards across the huge parking lot. Nothing was in our way and the gate at the end was open. “Yes! Go for it!” Rick floored it and we shot across the big parking lot in a flash, through the exit gate and out into the traffic. I was watching in the back and couldn’t see anyone following us, but as soon as he could, Rick took an exit and got onto some back roads heading north out of San Diego.
Thinking we’d done something really bad, we stayed on the back roads all day, just to be safe from what we thought might be a search by the border police. Those back roads finally brought us to the interstate in Central California, and we made it into Reno the next afternoon, where we went to a house party with the girls and stayed over night in the car.
The next day we counted our money and realized we didn’t have enough to buy gas back to Montana. Rick felt we could win enough in a casino to get us home. I didn’t agree, but Rick said he was a good blackjack player and would make it work. So we drove downtown and found a casino that felt right. Neither one of us was 21 yet, but no one carded us or even looked twice, so Rick hit the blackjack table and I decided to spend my last 4 dollars on the nickel slots. With my nickels 2/3rds gone, I suddenly hit a fifty dollar jackpot! I cashed it in and went looking for Rick.
“Rick, I hit the $50 jackpot!” I exclaimed. He only frowned, picked up his chips and cashed them in.
“Goddammit Hulse, why couldn’t you have come ten minutes earlier? I was up $70, and now I’ve lose most of it.”
Still, he had won $30, which, with my $50, was easily enough to get us back to Montana, even with a few burgers in our bellies.
We left Reno late that afternoon with a full tank of gas and a brand new tuck and roll interior in the Chevy. Quietly cruising along in Northern Nevada late that night, the big V8 purring and the am radio playing hits from a Salt Lake City radio station, what came on but When I Fell For You.
Now I’d heard it several times before and liked it. Hearing it that night, rolling up the dark Nevada highway, my eyes watered and I felt an immense relief that we’d survived these last insane four days and that all was well… we were headed home. That little song cemented our whole experience in stone, and as you now know, I never forgot it.
Here is Lenny Welch’s version –
When you just give love
And never get love
You’d better let love depart
I know it’s so, and yet I know
I can’t get you out of my heart
You made me leave my happy home
You took my love and now you’re gone
Since I fell for you
Love brings such misery and pain
I guess I’ll never be the same
Since I fell for you
Well, it’s too bad
And it’s too sad
But I’m in love with you
You love me, then you snub me
But what can I do?
I’m so in love with you
I guess I’ll never see the light
I get the blues most every night
Since I fell for you
Since I fell for you
We were 18 and 19 that long, deep night rolling through northern Nevada. We had a year of high school left, Viet Nam was heating up, the draft was looming there somewhere in our murky future, but the Reno girls had been glad to see us, and we had a little casino money in our pockets. When we’d get back home, I would be dating Sharon Riley, Rick would be dating Janet Wellman… and we would be seniors this fall. But for now, we had a new leather interior in Rick’s ’48, and his car was finally complete. I closed my eyes and smiled, as Lenny Welch sang us into the night, and to home.