After a messy patch of drunken nights and lost cell phones, I slowly became aware that I was listening to more music than I ever had previously. Whether at work, in my car, running, or in search of concerts… songs were suddenly a central force. In the wake of a breakup from a 10-year relationship, I was finding catharsis and a friend in music.
My playlists grew like tropical plants and I found that if I were to identify a constant companion, a surrogate parent, through this reeling period, it was my iPod.
A traffic jam of late night cab rides always left a baseline, from where I had been, vibrating in my ears. On the many nights that I woke at 4am – from the metabolisation of shooters into simple sugars – a song always seemed to follow me out of my sleep. A semi-conscious stumble to the tap for water frequently had a backing track.
Edward Sharpe, Metric, The Shins were like a succubus tagging along from a dream– whispering in my ear. I hadn’t been so dysfunctional, since my early 20’s, and not since my early 20’s did I have such a primal connection to music. I even found myself trawling for Vinyl. I was turning into a hipster without hair.
Memory is powerfully conducted by music (and smell – but that’s another kettle of fish). Even Alzheimer’s patients remember songs from their youth long after the recognition of loved ones has faded from memory. Research also indicates that music constricts the rate at which memory trickles away. In fact, music therapy is now an accepted form of treatment for those with Alzheimer’s.
This may explain why songs can surface such crystalline recollections of times and spaces from the distant past – they are inextricably linked to what we remember and thus who we are. I’m positive that certain albums I’m listening to right now will be unsettling to listen to 10 years on because they will be such intoxicating reminders of this period in my life.
Music is so much of who we are, that the few documented cases of children who have been raised outside of society (The Jungle Book, take one) have reportedly been observed humming and singing to themselves, without ever having heard any form of music outside of bird song.
The brain is wired for music. Unsurprisingly, it has also been proven (by bloody scientists once again) that music alleviates depression. Although, whoever conducted this research never factored Tanita Tikaram’s Valentine Heart into their case study.
You are what you eat. You are also what you hear. It’s a strange and comforting thought to consider that should your memory ever fade on a grand scale, you would still, for some time, retain a selection of songs. This playlist would offer a metonymic snapshot of who you were and what was important to you. The memories of your loved ones would be gone; but they would still find an unexpected form in a compilation of music that they helped to compose.