Music, Memory, and the Little Things

Illustration by Simone Eligon

“Drive” by The Cars came on while I was in line for coffee at Starbucks a couple months ago. I hadn’t heard this song in years, but immediately felt like I was back in high school. I suddenly remembered the days I would avoid talking to other people in the hallway by blasting the song through my headphones, and the many naps I took in the library during lunch to Heartbeat City, the album “Drive” is on. I spent the rest of that day reminiscing about my high school years. I wasn’t sure why, and honestly, I didn’t think much of it until, a couple weeks ago, the same thing happened with “1979” by The Smashing Pumpkins, another song I often listened to in high school. 

Even before these instances, I couldn’t listen to an Aventura or Anthony Santos song without thinking about growing up in Dominican Republic and the parties where I would join my family in dancing bachata into the late night. Memories like that resurface everytime I dust off my “home” playlist, which includes many of my favorite Dominican songs. And these days, whenever I listen to Pearl Jam or Hole’s popular singles I’m immediately brought back to my childhood bedroom where I wasted hours upon hours in bed listening to music. 

I took to the internet to find out why this was. Though I’m not an expert in the field of music, I’ve read enough to know the integral part it plays in preserving and recollecting the past. To offer a historical example, the Greeks used melodic devices to recall and retell epic poems such as “The Odyssey.” Songs from our youth become one with the memories, people, and locations we experienced them with. As it turns out, our brain’s amygdala is what’s responsible for the retention and consolidation of memory. Recollecting information as a memory, however, is not always easy. Music helps because it provides the brain with rhythm and sound cues to tie to that collection of memories. We have music-related memories because the rhythm and instrumentals of certain songs are still attached to many of our past experiences. 

Believe it or not, learning about music-related memories has drastically changed the way I consume music. This new information has inspired me to create playlists for specific moments in my life in the hope that the songs will come back to me in the future bearing special memories. I began to round up assortments of songs for playlists meant for journaling, reading, or even just making and drinking tea. I look forward to the next time I listen to one of those songs and tap into the deep neural connections that the music created with this period of my life. 

Creating soundtracks to the simplest of tasks has helped me not only to feel like a main character in the movie of my life, but also to appreciate the little things. I recommend looking out for these music-related moments yourself. It might not hurt to take a second to reminisce. 

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