Saturday, May 10, 2014

Music As A Memory Prompt

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (album)
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


          Prior to the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge of 2014 I did a series of posts about music and some of the memories inspired by music.   This concept came about as a cross promotion for my Battle of the Bands posts I do on my main blog Tossing It Out.

          Thinking about how certain music and particular songs prompt memories for me, I came up with a few identifiable music prompts.   Here is my prompt list:

1)   Music of an Era:   There are songs that immediately evoke memories for those knowledgeable about historical musical eras such as the Jazz Age, the Swing Band Era, the British Invasion, and other historic music eras.

       In my own life I also can identify certain time spans that I might refer to as personal eras.  These were time periods--months and maybe years--when I was hearing the same songs repeatedly and there was a heavy listening preference regarding certain types of music.  Some of the personal eras overlap.   There is my parents' music that I listened to in my childhood, the AM top forty era of 1963 to about 1969, a disco/new wave era in the late 70's to early 80's, my 80's music era, and so on.  

        Now if I hear a song by the Zombies, the Allman Brothers, The Police, Depeche Mode, or Daniel Amos (a Christian rock band), I will often be reminded of certain times of my life when I was listening to that type of music.   If I listen now to songs by such artists I can be taken back to that time and use the memory as a writing prompt.

2)   Songs of a season:  Most typically these are Christmas songs, but they can also include songs that remind me of Fourth of July (Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever"), Easter ("Easter Parade"), and even songs that were signature hits that I relate to times of the year ("Sugar Shack" for the beginning of the school year or "Summer In The City" for the summertime).   Some of these songs I rarely hear now, but a time of year might make me recall certain songs or vice versa.

3)   Music that relates to a specific time:   There are certain songs that I recall exactly where I was, what the time of year was, and what I was doing at the time I heard the song.   For example, Alan Parsons Project "Eye in the Sky" I first heard on the radio while sitting in the parking lot of a supermarket in Billings, Montana in mid-June of 1982.    Or Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" on the radio as I drove late one night in 1982 toward Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan with lightning flashing on the horizon.  Then there was a Sunday night in October of 1968 when I picked up a St. Louis FM station long enough to hear them successively play CCR's "Suzy Q" and Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", changing my view of music in a drastic way.

       The concept of time also applies to certain precise times when I can recall hearing a song to the point where it caught my attention and stayed with my memory.  Many times these were songs I had heard frequently and not paid much attention to until that magic point in time where the song registered in some special way.  This might have happened due to hearing it on the radio, on the piped in music system at a store, at someone's house, or some other place where the listening choice was out of my control.

4)    Songs related to an event:   These would include Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March #1" at graduations. Wagner's "Wedding March (Here Comes the Bride)",  or any number of songs traditionally used for ceremonial purposes.   This also includes songs that might be specific to a personal event such as a party, a wedding, a funeral, or some other occasion.

        An example of the personal event experience was a funeral that I attended--I don't even recall who the funeral was for--where a young lady sang a song called "On Eagle's Wings" by one Michael Joncas.  That song stuck in my mind so strongly that for over a year I searched for a recording of it.  Thereafter, whenever I listened to that song, I recalled it being sung at that funeral.

          Concerts I have attended will also be vividly replayed in my memory when I hear a song that was performed in a concert that I had seen by that artist.  Jethro Tull's earlier music is a good example of this.  If I hear cuts from Thick As A Brick or Passion Play, parts of the concerts I saw with this band will replay in my mind.

5)   Songs that evoke a memory of a person:  This very personal category is frequently thought of in relationship to a romantic interest, but for me it also relates to friends and family members.   There are certain songs that will make me think of my father or mother or my sisters or brothers.   Some songs I identify strongly with certain friends, especially musician friends who may have performed the songs.   If I hear one of these songs my mind will immediately begin thinking about the person to whom I relate the song and in some cases more than one person.

6)   Songs that evoke a place:  This category can go together with any number of the above or it can stand alone.  For many songs and albums I hear, I am taken back to the basement of my parents' house in Tennessee or my old bedroom in our family's house in Indiana.  Some songs might take me back to a unique venue where I heard them performed in concert.  When I hear "Walking in the Sand" by the Shangri-Las I remember the old gym at lunchtime in the junior high school I attended.  When I hear Dan Fogelberg's "The River" I remember sitting late at night with my first wife in our VW Rabbit parked in front of her parents' house in Richmond, Virginia.   Some songs can transport me to an exact place where I remember hearing them.

       I'm sure there are other prompts or variations on the ones I've mentioned here.  Sometimes I enjoy just putting on an album or listening to a song and letting the memories flow.  I find that music can do that.  For me the music does that very well.

         Do you make similar connections with the music of your life?   Are there other types of memories that music can prompt for you?   Do you ever write stories, sketches, essays, or other work using music as your inspiration?   

Please visit Tossing It Out this Thursday May 15th for the next Battle of the Bands post.


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16 comments:

Liza said...

Oh yes! When certain songs come on, I freeze as I time travel, back to a place or a feeling. I love music for capturing those snippets and delivering them back to us.

JoJo said...

Oh definitely. There are literally hundreds of songs that remind me of specific places, people, events...in fact I am not sure if I would remember things from my early childhood if it wasn't for music.

Barbara In Caneyhead said...

Oh, yes, music and smells conjures up the most vivid memories in me. One of the strongest is Steve Miller's the Joker. They played it so much on the jukebox at the public swimming pool. When it comes on I still smell clorine and pina colada tanning lotion, I can hear the diving board "boing", hear splashes and laughter and the pool balls hitting together. Very vivid!
Life & Faith in Caneyhead

shelly said...

Every time I hear something from the eighties, I say, I can't believe I'm approaching 50 and fast. When I here something from the Monkees, I'm reminded of the crush I had on Dave Jones and Mike Nesmith.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

>>... Some songs can transport me to an exact place where I remember hearing them.

Yeah, I think all of this is true for most people, and probably true for ALL people who really are passionate about music in general.

The songs 'MOONLIGHT FEELS RIGHT' and 'ROCK 'N' ROLL ROCKET' by Starbuck make me think of Disneyland, because I saw them perform those songs there with my buddy Eric the night we graduated from high school.

'CARRY ON WAYWARD SON' by Kansas makes me think of drinking Boone's Farm wine as a teenager with my friend Eric while parked behind the Federal Building in West Los Angeles.

'DYING MAN' by The Babys makes me think of drinking Southern Comfort and Coke as a teenager with my friend Eric while parked near the Redondo Beach Pier.

'ROCK AND ROLL, HOOCHIE KOO' by Rick Derringer makes me think of drinking Southern Comfort and Coke as a teenager with my friend Eric while parked at the Old Town Mall in Torrance.

The entire 'NOT SHY' album by Walter Egan makes me think of drinking Southern Comfort and Coke as a teenager with my friend Eric in the parking lot at the Fox Hills Mall.

'AIN'T TALKIN' 'BOUT LOVE' by Van Halen reminds me of drinking Southern Comfort and Coke as a teenager and cruising Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

'LOST IN THE FLOOD' by Bruce Springsteen reminds me of the night Dean and I drank Jim Beam and drove around Hollywood Boulevard throwing firecrackers at pimps.

And 'COLD DAY IN HELL' by Gary Moore makes me think of drinking wine with Dean in a Sedona campground and breaking out the Air Guitars.

Say... I'm starting to notice a pattern here: All of my song-related memories seem to revolve around... Eric and Dean.
[;-)}

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

D.G. Hudson said...

Music for memories - I agree, it works very well by association.

I can remember certain musical times, in my life, Lee. The songs that were playing when I moved to Canada, the songs that we listened to as we planned a recent Paris trip (Edith Piaf)and the French radio station, and the music I listened to while at college. Also the songs when we were attending musicals with the kids (Brigadoon, Summer of 42, etc), the blast of music power from the stage to row five when we saw the Bob Dylan here in 2008and so on.

Music soothes our soul or gets us moving. I like the BoTBs. . .

Arlee Bird said...

Liza -- Music is probably as close to an internal time travel vehicle as we can find.

JoJo-- So true. Music is like a measurement of the past in one sense.

Barbara-- You conveyed so much in this short comment. Maybe you should expand this into a larger piece. Talk about vivid! You did it here.

Shelly -- It is amazing to think how much time has passed as we grow older and all the music that went by with it.

StMc -- Actually it's a wonder that you can remember any of this at all. I have a lot of similar memories although they don't revolve so much around alcohol. But I assure you that my mind was in an altered state.

DG -- Music is a catalyst for many emotions and times of our lives. I think I've got a very interesting BOTB coming up next week.

Lee

farawayeyes said...

Music is an incredible memory prompt for me. I've moved around so much that music sometimes reminds me of places that I have lived.

I remember while I was living in Florida (not one of my favorite places) I really got into jazz. There was a syndicated radio station 'The Breeze' that was exclusively jazz. When I her certain jazz artists, I am immediately transported back to some of my more pleasant experiences in Fl.

Likewise Country Music reminds me of my time in Idaho.

I don't suppose I have to tell you what reminds me of 'de islands'.

Then there is the music that reminds me of my childhood vacations on a lake, in the north woods.

I could also go on and on about the music that reminds me of certain people, but I think you get my drift. In other words I agree with you completely.

I do write to music. Each of my characters has a particular song. When I'm stuck, I sometimes play the song that related to the character 'in charge' at the moment for inspiration. when working on a memoir piece, I reference some of the notes I listed above.

I'm thinking this is pretty normal for most people, but then again; maybe not.

DiscConnected said...

Lee-

As I sit here listening to Steve Hackett playing Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, I know the song will from this day forward remind me of the time I read your blog and learned there was actually a place named "Moose Jaw."

Music invokes all of the categories you name. For me, there is one other you did not name-I used music as a memory device for learning.

For example, there are a few French lessons burned into my brain because I memorized them to the tune of Peter Frampton's Show Me The Way.

Ditto for the field work standards for the CPA exam (to a Todd tune, natch)

Larry

DiscConnected said...

Lee-

A comment for Stephen McCarthy...I wonder if maybe music is not the trigger, but mixing Southern Comfort with different mixers makes him think of these songs?

LC

wangiwriter said...

Great post, Arlee! Songs certainly do bring back memories!
I have written a short memoir story based on one, and other memoir pieces relating to others. In fact I am thinking of doing a few blog posts based on songs in the near future.

LD Masterson said...

I read a blog recently on using music to set the tone when writing. That never works for me. (I start listening to the music and forget to write.) But music and memories - definitely. I can't name the number of songs that will take me back to a time and place so clearly, it's like being there again.

But I can name an album. (Does anyone remember record albums?) It was my mom's favorite Christmas album, Christmas With Conniff. She would listen to it all through the Christmas season or, if she needed a lift, in the middle of summer. Whenever I hear even one of those songs, it's like having her back again.

storytreasury said...

I don't think I have many songs like that.

Dee said...

Dear Lee, I'm really somewhat music illiterate. I know so many songs--can sing them and like to listen to them from the Big Band era of the 40s and songs from the '20s and '30s that my Mom sang as she worked around the house and cooked. I know songs from my high school and college years in the '50s and then I know songs from the folk singers of the '60s and early '70s. But after that I really know nothing.

Like you, I love "On Eagles Wings." Michael Joncas is a priest in MInneapolis. I lived in MInnesota for almost 40 years and so I've heard many of his songs. I also find the songs of the St. Louis Jesuits both haunting and poignant.

Your categories made me really think about songs that I'd put in them. Thank you. Peace.

Arlee Bird said...

FAE-- The more comments that I get when I write on this topic I'm thinking that it's normal for maybe half the writing population. I can't imagine not relating much to music but there must be many for whom music doesn't mean that much.

Larry - That's a good additional category. I think of the childhood learning songs like "The Alphabet Song" or songs from Sesame Street and the like. When I think of Southern Comfort I usually think of Janis Joplin.

Wangiwriter -- I hope to read some of those pieces.

LD -- My mother didn't have the Conniff Christmas album, but she had other Conniff albums that stick in my memory. I'm hearing those singers with "April in Paris" and "Begin the Beguine" in my head right now.

Story -- I find that amazing, but I now a number of readers have commented on my posts about music that they don't relate to music very much.

Dee -- I think the music/memory connection is a good one to use. You should test it out.


Lee


angelsbark said...

I think I could listen to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida every single day! A little trivia that you may already know but most people don't -- How the song/album got it's name is hilarious. I'm pasting a paragraph from Wikipedia that explains it: "A commonly related story says that the song's title was originally "In the Garden of Eden", but at one point in the course of rehearsing and recording, singer Doug Ingle got drunk and slurred the words, creating the mondegreen that stuck as the title. However, the liner notes on 'the best of' CD compilation state that drummer Ron Bushy was listening to the track through headphones, and could not clearly distinguish what Ingle said when he asked him for the song's title. An alternative explanation given in the liner notes of the 1995 re-release of the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album, is that Ingle was drunk, high, or both, when he first told Bushy the title, and Bushy wrote it down. Bushy then showed Ingle what he had written, and the slurred title stuck." AWESOME STORY! Love it. :)