Pensieve by Cory Funk

Pensieve by Cory Funk

This playlist was my response to a rhetorical exigence; A moment that needed speaking to.  In a long and deep trough of depression, I turned to one of my most effective (and most difficult) coping strategies and asked friends for help.  If I keep busy I can make it. So I built myself a year-long project of making themed mixes to be called “Funk of the Month” and asked friends for theme ideas.  I received roughly 45 ideas and set to work. The suggestion of songs tied to specific memories (specifically “Pensieve”, it’s a Harry Potter reference just in case you aren’t familiar) made the cut.  But a note of caution: This mix is a decade old. So I am reaching back through two layers of memory into a shadowy place where feelings and facts have intertwined. The path is winding and unevenly lit.  

1- Carry On, CSN

This was the first song on the tape that I made for a family trip to San Francisco.  We are in a white Chrysler minivan driving down the California coast, the tape plays.  The tape goes around and around, everyone, even my matronly aunt who I have never seen open a hymnal and yet never miss a note on a single hymn, enjoys the mix.  It plays in the shadow of Muir Woods. It plays as we stop for lunch at Stinson Beach, the group all smiles and wind-blown hair from the ocean breeze.

2- No Time, The Guess Who

Funny.  I remember times and places around this song, but there isn’t a story that blazes bright and high in the sky when I see it on the track list, only the vague tingle that it is a winter song.  I first liked this song in roughly my seventh grade year. That was nearly twenty years before this mix. Well, it’s gone now. Seasons change and so did I.

3- Time of the Season, Zombies

When did you discover that music was sexy?  When did you discover lyrics that had a dark glint in their eye?  It’s near-night. We are in a car. Change is in the dusky air. It’s maybe turning to fall or just turning to spring, streetlights are overruling the sunset.  

But the memory isn’t about my awakening.  Someone else is discovering this song and its undercurrent, finding out about 60s rock, on the cusp of The Doors and Jimi Hendrix.  While I am not there, I am sure he plays it for his girlfriend, which still brings me a small smile.

4- Ramble On, Led Zeppelin

So many songs about travel play in cars I am in from of tapes I made.  

The tape warbles right on that first note from the bass guitar because as the opening to the B-side the leader gets stretched by the auto-reverse mechanism in the tape deck of my ’86 Honda Accord.  But even in that moment I am remembering through this sonic portal.

This time I’m not driving, my memory says my sister is, and we hurl thought the late afternoon. We are just outside of the home town of Sinclair Lewis driving to a lake.  The windows are down, arms out getting an unbalanced tan. She has discovered Led Zeppelin via a 4 disc Best Of set that she plays with the pride of sharing a secret. The glaciated terrain rolls by, mixing the end of the prairie with wooded lakes as Jimmy Page leans on that sustain peddle.  We aren’t talking but we are still in conversation about our journey.

5- Anyone for Tennis, Cream

It’s spring, and the windows are open on the front of the house, which faces east.  My Dad is playing a “Best of” Cream cd. It replaced an old budget record he had, also a best of Cream but with minor differences in the track list and a cover improperly kerned.  He loves this cd and plays it almost by default for the first six months he owns it. I’m getting ready to go over to a friend’s house. I’ll bike because I don’t have my license yet.  We are going to play Dungeons and Dragons (2nd Edition) and I have, for the first time, little pewter figures that each of us can use to represent our character which have, to this point, been wholly in our minds.  As is perhaps typical of a young man’s wandering attention, I get an idea from this song about an adventure to write for my friends. I’m excited and electrified by the music, the weather, and friendship.  

6- Are you Experienced? Jimi Hendrix

It is late.  Somewhere in the AM/PM shift.  I’m the last family member back to the house and am appropriately quiet about it.  The living room and kitchen are dark, but in the addition (that space off the back of the house never gets a proper name, we call it “the addition” to this day) my sister is having an experience.  She sits at the dining room table, lights faded low, listening to Hendrix while our folks sleep at the other end of the rambler. She says it’s for a music theory class but it’s never too clear why, or for what sort of assignment, she has undertaken this guitar drenched journey that leads to this epiphany of what psychedelic blues are.  She thinks I don’t know about her being stoned (or that she smokes Camels). We are four years apart and have, as we spend more time apart, found a space to be part of the music of each other’s lives again. Tonight we are redefining each other for the better.

7- Even Better Than the Real Thing

It’s an autumn morning indistinguishable from a winter morning and my friend Wade is waiting in the driveway.  He is the first of us to have a license AND a car, and he drives a rotating number of the usual suspects to school.  Even though I’m last of the crew to be picked up I always get the shotgun seat. Everything is a shade of white like the frost on the bare branches or a shade of brown like the Toyota station wagon as it idles in a cloud of cold exhaust while I quick saunter out.  The door creaks open and bangs closed. The Grocerygogetter hasn’t been running long enough to warm up or fully defrost but the hellos are warm and we are a cadre of good humor and inside jokes. Wade’s got a new cd and the second song starts just as I buckle in. That opening riff is indelible and this album becomes a landmark, monument to a time when we laughed easy and felt our potential.

8- Best of Both Worlds, Van Halen

I have no idea now how we met. She didn’t seem to know anyone in my circle of friends.  Her name is a virtue and she is my first girlfriend. This is the soundtrack to my first kiss, a gentle affair, in the waning sun of an April afternoon where the snow still hides in the lee of her apartment building.  

9- Elegantly Wasted, INXS

The album is in a cardboard promo sleeve.  I use this to my advantage as I press an indent with my thumbnail into the soft material next to the track number of the stand out cuts.  It is later than can be safe to drive anymore but there I am driving home on Hwy 169 just north of Joran, Minnesota. I keep repeating this track because that chorus is so prime to sing out into the vast undulating night with all the wild abandon that comes with being up past the point of cohesiveness.  In the life that flows in the throb of transit and being untethered, in between leaving and arriving, in having let go of what was but before you can grab what is new, in the many fast dark miles to go before I can sleep it off, all I can do is admit that this ain’t the good life.

10- Isn’t It Midnight, Fleetwood Mac

She sends a photo from the Philippines.  She is riding a water buffalo and smiling in front of a Coca-Cola sign written in Tagalog.  She says she understands the song and appreciates the sentiment. Her tone is the same sound as the soft closing of a bedroom door, which leaves no doubt.  It is already much too late if it was ever possible, which we both know it never was.

11- The Nail, Trip Shakespeare

It’s the first time I see tickets to First Avenue (you know, where “Purple Rain” was filmed? Yeah, that First Ave).  The tickets are right there on Dan’s fridge, embedded glitter and all. I’m impressed and a bit jealous, but also grateful that Dan is hip to the now and invites me to the party.

12- Call Me Up In Dreamland, Van Morrison

Anywhere I was living at the time is three hours from where my (now) wife is going to grad school.  It is nothing to a young me to drive just under seven hours round trip to see her for even a couple hours on a weekend.  Two strategies to stay sharp on the haul: Drink a lot of water then don’t stop to drain it and have some songs you can sing along to on the tape deck.  Turns out I think this song is in my range and so play it in the warm haze of young love as I roll like a river, finding my soul, on Hwy 29.

13- Sleepyhouse, Blind Melon

Maybe it is fourteen years before this mix, maybe thirteen, but for sure it is driving west on county blacktop in the early spring with the sunroof open.  It will be three years before our friendship shatters and implodes as quickly as it formed. But this morning he and I are belting out this song at the top of our lungs like two soused war buddies without a care.  We are heading into the only sizable town under an hour’s drive from campus for no more reason than it has the closest Target store with no sense that any horizon could be other than blue skies.

14- Happy For You, Lloyd Cole

It was a complicated time and is no longer any of our business. If you believe that you’ll be happy, then I’m happy for you.

15- Calling Elvis, Dire Straits

That weekend, before the blizzard, I was in Frontenac State Park on the north end of Lake Pepin, camping in a cold snap with my scout troop.  A friend had bought the album the week of the trip and the tape played on a loop the whole drive down and back, tinny and sad through mismatched speakers in his red ’81 Ford Granada.  There is no song with the power to conjure both autumn and winter that this song has. No sort of alchemy can bring back the bright sun over the bare burr oaks like this song. No witchcraft can evoke in me a feeling of the fire-warmed front and freezing back or draw more clear the delighted fire-lit faces of those young men laughing in the freezing air under the brilliant starlight that this song can.   

About the author:

Cory Funk is a music junkie who lives in St Paul, Minnesota.  He has more speakers, some of which he built himself, than he has stereos to hook them up to.  His photography and part of his record collection have been displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. He has been a featured artist in Kissing Dynamite, has had poetry published in The Blue Pages, Mookychick, Moonchild Magazine, and a short story in the collection Killing Malmon published by Down & Out Books.  He can be found online at