“you can’t put your arms around a memory” – johnny thunders (1978)


All of the great experiences in life are fleeting.  These experiences stemming from singular moments, feelings, or relationships are end just as quickly as they begin.  The elation and joy felt during these times are important and help shape and define us.  These experiences become memories; remnants of the past floating around our brain that conjure some feeling reminiscent of how we felt at that particular time.  For the most part, these feelings of nostalgia and reflection can be comforting.  It makes sense, right?  If you felt good then, you should feel good now.

However, there is always a bittersweet tinge of sadness because these moments cannot be relived.  It is the absence of something special that bring about this sadness.  For if something was never felt, how can you miss it?  It is a natural conclusion to come to. For some, it is momentary and the person quickly moves on about their busy lives until such a feeling returns.  For others, it can be haunting and cause anxiety, fear, and depression.

The reality is that you cannot do anything about it.  Things change.  People change.  Life changes.  I strongly believe our experiences that influence our memories define who we are, what we believe, and what we represent.  Without those memories, you lose yourself.  With those memories go our last threads connecting us to the special people and moments in our lives.

I am not afraid of much.  Of course, I have the normal concerns and anxieties that plague everyone.  Questions that make me concerned if I’m being a good person, fulfilling some greater purpose, or if I can achieve true happiness.  These thoughts and moments of self-doubt and introspection are normal.  But, you get through them.  The one thing I am truly afraid of the most is losing my memory.  Losing my memory means I am losing myself and the people, places, and experiences that have helped define me.  It is funny sometimes to think that the only thing I really fear I cannot actually touch.  Memories aren’t tangible and can easily be manipulated both unwillingly and consciously.  So much importance is placed on our nostalgia and the rose-colored glasses we view our past.  What I fear losing, I cannot touch.  What I fear losing, I cannot feel.  What I fear losing, I can’t put my arms around.

Right after ending his stint as a member of the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders kicked off his solo career with his most powerful song.  Released in 1978, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” was Thunders’ first single and a powerful message about loneliness and the fear of absence; whatever that may be.

Allegedly about his addiction to heroin, Thunders signature track is a ballad about his inability to function on his own.  He kicks off the song declaring that it doesn’t pay to try to hold onto these memories, but it still doesn’t mean he didn’t try.  Who can blame him?  We’ve all been there.  But this awareness doesn’t keep him from receding to the dark recesses of his mind.  Thunders is cold and alone all of the time.  Even when addressing the subject of the song, he feels such extreme loneliness when alone and even in his own home.

From there, Thunders is on a path of destruction that many succumb to when depressed.  He’s beating his head against a pole in order to knock some sense into himself.  Whatever it was that was comforting him is gone and Thunders cannot deal in any way other than hurting himself.  And all of this is an internal struggle; an invisible monster that no one else sees.  He has the scars to prove it even if those scars don’t show.

“You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” is a punk rock classic that deals with serious themes in a shocking and heartfelt way.  Thunders sound labored as he draws out words to be unnecessarily long and loses key a few times.  His vocals are powerful as they evoke a sense of inebriation and lack of control that suitably fits with the song.  The guitar work is splendid and sounds reminiscent of his work the New York Dolls mixed with Television.

Thunders’ life ended abruptly in 1991 possibly related to a drug overdose.  He seemed like a troubled person haunted by a past he couldn’t let go of.  While memories can be amazing things, they can also become nightmares.  The key is to realize that they cannot hurt if you don’t let them.  Life goes on and so should you.  Take the lessons you have learned and move on.  If you can’t put your arms around a memory, that memory can put their arms around you either.

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