Music and Memories

The power of music in our lives

Last week I saw a great show by a 60s and 70s tribute rock and roll group called “Phil Dirt and the Dozers.” They were a talented bunch of guys who played multiple instruments and could sing everything from the Beach Boys to the blues. Like most of the members of the audience I knew every word so I was singing along and dancing in my seat. One couple even jumped up to twist. Were we having such a good time because of simple nostalgia? Research says it’s much more complex than that.

Listening to the music of our youth evokes highly personal feelings associated with particular memories. I remember one hot summer night so vividly it’s as if it happened yesterday. The moon was full, all the fire of youth was coursing through my veins and Leslie Gore’s “California Nights” was playing at full volume on the radio. I know you have memories like that, too.  Do you remember where you were and who you were with when you first heard I Want to Hold your Hand? (And if I have to tell you who sang it you can stop reading now.)

Those of us who are leading edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) came of age in a time of dramatic social change. Every generation experiences pivotal world events that serve as milestones of their lives but these are the ones that shaped us:

  • The assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon
  • The draft lottery during the Vietnam War
  • The Civil Rights Movement

The 60’s marked a time of social revolution. We rebelled against authority. We questioned our beliefs and experimented with alternative lifestyles. We refused to accept the status quo. We flicked our Bics and burned our bras and draft cards. We grew our hair long and wore unconventional clothes.

And we expressed our feelings about all of this through our music.

In August, 1969, close to half a million of us gathered in a dairy farmer’s alfalfa field in upstate New York for a 3-day music festival that was remarkably peaceful. No accommodations, inadequate supplies, lousy weather—a setting for disaster if there ever was one—yet there were only 2 deaths recorded at Woodstock, neither of them the result of violence. The event ended up being exactly as billed—a time of peace and love experienced through music.

As we got older and assumed the responsibilities associated with pairing up, parenting and earning a living, pop music dropped lower on our priorities list. Spotify has compiled user data and arrived at the conclusion that many of us stop keeping up with new popular music in our 30s. That’s when we reach the point of “taste freeze” and stick to the familiar music we know and love.

The music of our youth wasn’t just music—it was our identity. It helped shape our world views, lifestyles and political orientations. And music and the memories it evokes stays with us until the end.

Beloved Music Can Renew Lives Lost to Dementia

This headline is from the website of Music and Memory. This non-profit organization started with a simple idea by the founder, Dan Cohen. He tells how he was musing one day that if he ever ended up in a nursing home he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite ‘60s music. Then reasoning others might feel the same, he thought, “Why not bring iPods into nursing homes with personalized play lists for the residents?” He experimented with his idea in a local nursing home and his program was an instant hit with residents, their families and the staff. In a video on the site, noted neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks explained that the parts of the brain that respond to music are very close to the parts of the brain associated with memory, emotion and mood. Losing your memories means losing your personal story, your identity. Music can help restore them at least for a little while.


“The past which is not recoverable in any other way is embedded, as if in amber, in the music, and people can regain a sense of identity.”                           —Dr. Oliver Sacks


Now the program that started with one man’s idea is used in hundreds of care facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada. More and more studies are confirming that music reaches places in our minds nothing else can touch. But rather than boring you with research statistics, I’d rather you watch the amazing results for yourself. And in case you’re wondering, I have no affiliation with this organization other than my personal support and utmost respect.

If I ever end up in a nursing home I hope someone has enough R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for me to pack my iPod because I’m a believer. I want to spend my days letting the sun shine in, twisting and shouting and maybe doing some dancing in the street before my ticket to ride is punched!

 

Food for thought:

What was “your” song?

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