Sunday, March 16, 2008

Music and Memories

It is one of the powers of music to bring to the minds of individuals memories of the past. All it takes is for a person to hear a specific song and he or she will automatically think of those things he or she was doing at the time they first heard that song or that song was popular. Perhaps more than any other medium, it would seem as if music evokes thoughts of specific times and places in people.

I know this is true of myself. The instrumental "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams was a big hit in 1968. As a result every time I hear it I tend to think back to when I was five years old. "My Sharona" by The Knack was the song of the summer of 1979. As a result I can't think of that summer, when I was all of 16 years old, without thinking of that song.

Indeed, songs can even bring up memories of specific events in one's life. In 2000 the song 'Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down was making its way up the charts just as my mother died .For better or worse, there are times when I hear that song and I can't help but think of the passing of my mom. For me the song "Complicated" by Avril Lavigne will always be intertwined with memories of a camping trip I made in southern Missouri just as that song became a hit.

Here I must point out that a song need not be very new when it becomes tied to a certain time or place in our minds. The "Theme from A Summer Place," from the movie of the same name, was a huge hit in 1960, before I was even born. But I cannot help but think of the late Sixties any time I hear the instrumental. More specifically, I can't help but think of the old Parkade Plaza in Columbia, I swear that they constantly played that song over the intercom!

Of course, the fact that I associate The "Theme from A Summer Place" with Parkade Plaza in the late Sixties brings up another point. Often we will tend to identify specific songs with specific places. I tend to think of Iowa City, where I went to college, any time I hear "Evangeline" by Matthew Sweet. It was one of the hit songs from when I was there.

If people can come to associate specific songs with specific places, then they can quite naturally associate them with certain people as well. In fact many couples will often claim a certain tune as "our song." And there can be little doubt that they think of each other when they hear that song. I know I can't hear "Michelle" by The Beatles without thinking of a woman I know named, well, "Michelle."

For the most part when people associate a song with a specific time, place, or person, they tend to like that song. I must point out, however, that this is not always true. I have always detested the song (and the dance, for that matter) "Macarena" by Los Del Rio. Unfortunately, the song is burned into my memories of the summer and fall of 1995. I cannot hear the song without thinking of that time. I cannot think of that time without thinking of the song. Whether we like it or not, sometimes a song is played so much at a given point in our lives that it becomes intertwined with our memories of that time.

I cannot say why songs tend to evoke memories of people, places, and times more so than movies, books, TV shows, or other media. To me it is a total mystery. That having been said, it seems to me that it is a fact. Indeed, I utterly hate "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles, but I suspect it will be forever be tied to my memories of the winter of 2007-2008. It seems that even when we do not like a song, it can become etched into our memories of a specific time or place.

1 comment:

Jim Marquis said...

Boy, ain't it the truth. I'm sure that's one of the big reasons I'm so into music. And like you say, even music you don't like provides a bridge to your past.