One of the many viral videos the Facebook rounds depicts a fairly uncommunicative elderly man, Henry, spending his time seated in a wheelchair, eyes cast downward; he doesn’t even recognize his own daughter. The clip then shows how he is “awakened” and begins a lively conversation after listening to 1940s music. (Click here to view the video from "Alive Inside", part of the music and memory project.)
For most of us, songs that accompanied our lives’ highs and lows have the power to transport us back in time. Your “personal soundtrack” may include tunes that recall the lazy, carefree summer days of your youth; the first 45 (or LP, cassette or CD) that you purchased with your own money; the song that was popular when you and your first girl- or boyfriend got together and the one that soothed you when you broke up.
You probably feel nostalgic when you hear a hit song from the first concert you attended, music that you listened to in your first apartment or a tune that you heard over and over during a fun road trip. Most of us remember graduation party and wedding songs, albums our parents and kids enjoyed and soundtracks from popular films and Broadway musicals.
When we serendipitously hear songs from our pasts, we remember not just what we were doing, but how we were feeling at that time. “What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head,” explains Petr Janata, a University of California, Davis, cognitive neuroscientist, in a summary of his landmark study in the journal Cerebral Cortex. “It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye.”
And so, I’m struggling to understand what memories and emotions today’s music will evoke for my children in the future. I may sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but I can’t help but wonder if hearing Li’l Wayne’s line “Young angel, young lie and im done tryin, I’m jus doin, who’s drinkin’ cause im buyin’” will spring them to life 75 years from now.
To read the rest of this post, which appears on the PermissionSlips blog site, click here. My friend and colleague and I take turns updating PermissionSlips each week.