Day 19: Music and Memory


Did you ever have a song that you associate with a particular person or event, so much so that you can’t hear the song without evoking the memory? I don’t mean in the way that hearing the Emperor’s March makes you immediately think of Star Wars – if the soundtrack is good enough, it’s a given that you’ll be reminded of the movie. It’s more an autobiographical event that I’m thinking of…something from your past that has – for whatever reason – become indelibly entwined in your mind with a particular song.

I heard the song “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts earlier this evening, and was immediately reminded of my first school dance. It was the 7th grade Valentine’s Day dance, and that song was the theme. I was twelve years old. The dance was more than 35 years ago (Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!) and I still think of it every time that song comes on the radio. [Though I’m using the term ‘radio’ loosely…nowadays it’s more likely to be Amazon Music or Spotify or Pandora…]

It got me thinking about the frequency in which I associate music with memories. Is it because I’ve always had a strong affinity for music? I started playing the piano at 5, the flute at 9…the tunes are always on in the car, and if I know the lyrics, I will sing along to it. Does that make a difference, or does everyone do it? I can’t be the only one whose life has a soundtrack. Here are some of mine – show me some of yours in the comments!

  • “She Blinded Me With Science” by Thomas Dolby – This song will forever take me back to the first day of 9th grade, Mr. Kroto’s biology class. The bell rang, and as we all sat wondering what to expect, Mr. Kroto walked in and placed a huge boom box on the long counter at the front of the classroom. Without a word of introduction, he hit play, and Dolby’s 1982 hit blared from the speakers at top volume. Welcome to 9th grade Biology.
  • “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind – I’m not sure if this one counts or not. It’s not so much a song attached to a memory as it is the memory of the first time I ever heard the song. I was driving home from my dad’s house, late one holiday night. (I’m fuzzy now on whether it was Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, but I’m leaning toward the latter.) Local radio station DC101 liked to play full albums late at night, and on that particular night they played the album of a new group, Third Eye Blind. The first song on the album was “Jumper,” and I liked it so much that a few days later I went out and bought the CD.
  • “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel – This is probably one of the earliest song-memory associations that I have. When I was in the first grade, the local fire department came to our school to give us the talk about fire safety. Depending on what time of year it was, I would’ve been 5 or 6. (I skipped kindergarten, so was a year younger than most of my classmates.) During their presentation, they showed us a movie in which some kids playing with matches started a house fire that burned down the house and killed everyone inside. Now, it wasn’t a graphic movie – they didn’t actually show us the people being burned…but it was implied, and it made an impression. For quite some time, I couldn’t hear that song without feeling sad for that poor, dead family. To this day, I think of that movie every time I hear the song, and I think, “Geez, what an effed up thing to show to a bunch of little kids…”
  • “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas – I don’t remember how this came about, but a few years ago I told my sister that I was writing in my will that she has to get up at my funeral and perform this song. Whenever I hear it, I find myself hoping that someone holds her to it, and that I figure out the whole “haunting” thing quickly, so that I don’t miss her performance!
  • “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift – When she was 3 or 4, this was my niece Allie’s favorite song. Hearing it now reminds me of a recording my sister sent me of Allie singing that song. [Badly. Good thing she’s cute!]
  • “Bye, Bye, Bye” by ‘N Sync – When I was 30 and newly divorced, I used to go to this nightclub called Rumblefish with some girls from work once in awhile. One night, I noticed this guy I’d never seen before, watching me from across the room. We continued to make eye contact from time to time throughout the evening, and eventually, he asked me to dance. The music was loud, and it was hard to have a real conversation, but I learned that he was in the military and would be leaving the area the next day. (No, it wasn’t a ploy for a last-chance hook-up…get your minds out of the gutter!) Irrationally disappointed, considering we’d only just met, we parted ways after our dance. A little while later as I was standing, drink in hand, talking to my friends, I felt someone’s shoulder against mine. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him standing with his back to me, talking to a group of his friends, his shoulder barely touching mine. The hand that wasn’t holding my drink was hanging at my side and slightly behind me. After a minute, he moved ever so slightly until his hand deliberately brushed mine…and stayed. We stood there, backs to each other, hands lightly touching, not acknowledging each other in any other way as I chatted with my friends, he with his. After a few minutes, one of us moved away, and I never saw him again. To this day, it was one of the most romantic moments of my life. I never knew his name, and I don’t remember what he looked like anymore, but I think of him every time they play “our” song.
  • “Happy” by Pharrell Williams – In 2015 I chaperoned a chorus of teenagers on a tour of Germany and Austria. In the mornings, our bus driver – who was Serbian, and his name sounded like “Russia,” though I can’t remember what it was exactly – would sometimes blast the music, which the kids loved. We were somewhere in Austria the morning the whole bus sang and danced in their seats to “Happy”…and yes, we all clapped along.
  • “Hey Jude” by The Beatles – My grandparents had one of those mid-century console stereo cabinets – a piece of furniture about the size of a credenza, that housed a turntable and (I believe) an AM/FM tuner. The only 45 I can remember listening to there was “Hey Jude”…and occasionally, to “Revolution” on the B side. (If you don’t know what a turntable, a 45 or the B side is, ask your parents. If they don’t know either, ask your grandparents. )
  • “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede (a.k.a. the “Ooga Chucka” song) – When I was a kid, I had a portable record player, and would frequently borrow my mom’s 45’s to play on it. This was one. “Killer Queen” by Queen was another.
  • “The Rose” by Bette Midler – I was in the 5th grade, 9 or 10 years old, and one of my best friends, Kelly Ball, had a sleepover. It was a small party, just me, Kelly and our other bestie, Tracey Pariseau. At some point, we decided to hold a talent show, with Kelly’s parents as the judges. I don’t remember what the other two girls did for their talent, but I sang “The Rose”…and won first place!

3 thoughts on “Day 19: Music and Memory”

  1. I really have to think about if I have “musical memories”. I think I’m aware of them when I hear the song, but having to think about it is difficult. There is one song that puts me on the bus in Spain, looking at the landscapes and watching the sunflowers whizzing by. Suddenly, the hills part and there are windmills spinning lazily as far as I could see, but I couldn’t tell you the title. I have so much music that I don’t know the titles and artists names to most of them.

    • Maybe it is just me, then. LOL. I had even more than just the ones I mentioned in the blog. Some of them are best kept to myself, though…for example, I don’t think my mom needs to know what memory is evoked by Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” album. 😉

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