The sounds of memories

Last week I was lucky enough to see two gigs by artists I have loved and wanted to see live for a long time. I still remember exactly where I was when I first heard Shakey Graves—down to which song (‘Dearly Departed’) on which radio station (NPR) and even which street I was driving on when it came on the radio (Davisville Road in Southampton, PA). And Hozier is one of the few artists I can say I listened to before they got big, although that was only because I was living in Ireland and so ‘Take Me To Church’ was on everyone’s playlists for months there before it ever hit North American airwaves.

It got me thinking about how strongly tied to memory sound can be. There are so many songs that make me think of a certain time or place, down to minuscule details about where I was or what I was doing when I listened to them. Often music conjures up memories of people or moments as well, whether it’s a fond memory of childhood and your parent singing your favourite lullaby or a song that you can’t listen to anymore because it reminds you too much of your ex. Sound is unavoidable. It can sneak up on you, a song coming unexpectedly on the radio or in the grocery store.

And it’s not just songs. I listened to an episode of the marketing podcast Household Name recently that discussed the sound of brands. From NBC’s “ding diiing ding” (I’m sure you can hear it in your head) to the Windows startup noise to MGM’s lion’s roar, sounds can instantly call up a recollection of a brand, often paired with a sense of nostalgia (for better or worse—I’m sure if I asked you to imagine a dial-up internet connection your memory would come in the form of a sound and you would hate it). But obviously music is the most enjoyable type of sound for most of us.

Music for me offers one of the most purest types of memory snapshots. I’m sure this depends on your exact nature, whether you’re more visual or tactile or prefer some other sense or type of learning and thinking, but nothing can instantly snap me into some moment of the past the way music can. It’s not always a complete memory—I don’t remember when or why I was driving down Davisville Road and hearing ‘Dearly Departed’ for the first time, but I remember the DJ talking about how Shakey Graves had transitioned from acting to music and I remember stopping carefully at every stop sign because the cops were known to hang out around the blocks waiting for folks to roll through and I remember that the weather was sunny but crisp, cold, and windy which is kind of perfect for a song like that.

There are songs that bring me straight back to college, to high school, to summer, to my favourite bar. Songs that remind me of my partner or my sister or my best friend. Songs that immediately make me visualize a specific moment in a tv show or film, or the book I was reading when I listened to it. Songs that draw out every sort of emotion.

There isn’t much of a point to this post, just a little love song to love songs (and other sounds) and how grateful I am to be able to enjoy them.

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