Music and Memories

I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio yesterday. That may not seem like a big deal, but my radio station likes to repeat the same crap every hour, with one “oldie” thrown in to appease adults forced to listen to the station by their radio-commandeering teenagers. The feeling is similar to the times I listen to the classic rock station, when, on a rare occasion, I hear a song by Rush. I think, “Why don’t they play Rush more often?” After thirty seconds of listening, I remember the answer.

When I heard my song I was pleasantly surprised. It's a really good tune by one of my favorite bands. You’re probably wondering what song is it and by what artist. That information is irrelevant to my story, and, music is very subjective and I don’t want to taint your opinions abut this piece by revealing a song or artist you may dislike. I already took a chance of alienating you by the mere mention of Rush.

Anyway, I heard the song and was pleasantly surprised. It was a tune I heard a lot while growing up, and it always reminds me of...nothing, because I don’t associate music with memories.

Because I don’t, the idea confuses me. I can listen to a friend recite a list of past life events when he hears a song from his youth: “I remember when this song came on the radio I was working at the Pizza Factory and dating Darlene and I had just purchased a new pair of Converse All-Stars with the money from a check my Grandmother mistakenly sent me thinking she was paying her water bill.” I hear the song? Zilch. I can’t even remember this person being my friend.

My family can enumerate the same types of music-prompted mental lists, only they go one step better by noting what I was doing: “I remember when this song came out, you had just purchased your first car, a puke-gold 1970 Dodge Dart, and while driving it to the lake with your girlfriend Wanda it threw a rod when you raced your engine to scare a heard of cows.” I think I'd remember owning a vomit-colored beater, and impressing cows does not seem like a thing I’d do, even in my idiotic years. By the way, Wanda who?

Part of the reason I don’t make the music mental connections is because I am a musician. When I listen to songs, I hear how the song is composed, the instruments chosen, their balance, and the overall feeling of the song. (It is also the reason I can tolerate Rush.) I listen to music the way a foodie experiences the blends of flavors in a Polynesian Chicken Sautee. I wonder if culinary connoisseurs make similar mental attachments: “I remember I was working at the law firm of Becker, Becker, Becker and Kosnolowitz and driving a BMW 3 Series the first time I tried Tex-Mex Moo Goo Guy Pan Gyros.”

Another reason I don't make the connections is because of faulty wiring in my brain. I cannot remember people's names, but I can give the song title, album name, and track number of every tune on my mp3 player. I can’t remember emails I just sent, but I can recall entire passages of L’Etranger in flawless French. I can remember the exact location in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where I lost a bottle opener from my key chain, but I can’t remember where I laid my keys last night.

But a good-sized chunk of the reason I don’t make the music to memory connection is because of how absurd I think the idea is. Affixing a mental image to the song that happens to be playing on the radio at that time is arbitrary, and a cosmic crapshoot. I mean, why would I want to affix a wonderful or stupid youthful memory to an unrelated song on the radio just because that song happens to be broadcasted at the time? Why would I want to ruin an excellent song like “Brown Sugar” by relating it to a painful breakup? Why would I want taint the moment I met my best friend by tying it to an earworm like “Billy Don’t Be a Hero?” Why would I want to associate that song with anything other than nausea?

I guess I’m saying I don’t need to recall memories to enjoy music, and I don’t need songs to spur pleasant memories. For me the music, and the memories, are their own reward.