Playlists and memories -- a reply to the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn

Playlists and memories -- a reply to the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn
Photo by Margaret H. Laing

In his “Change of Subject” column on June 16, 2019, in the Chicago Tribune, columnist Eric Zorn wrote about searching for music to evoke memories. As the headline advised, “Music might someday unlock the mind’s memories, so make your playlist now.” (If you missed it — or forgot — catch up with the column here.)

It’s taken me a while to consider this and to live with some musical memories, but the idea hasn’t let me go.

“Might someday,” Mr. Zorn? Don’t you enjoy the effect now?

He advised his readers to search for music from the years they — we — turned 10, 11 and 12 — and up to the present day.

Having grown up in a musical home, I loved the idea straightaway — but I didn’t need the computer power he mentioned to do most of it.

When my record player wore out several years ago, I got a new one instead of giving up a collection of vinyl records that was about a foot cubed. Then my collection grew, as my father sold his house and I adopted many of Dad’s LPs and other albums — books full of single 45 and 78 RPM records described in a previous post. Many of them include songs I grew up hearing or playing, and not just on the record player.

For instance, I have a soundtrack album for “The Sound of Music,” and on the day I drafted this post, I remembered the song “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” as I listened to it. I recalled that it was the last music I listened to on the night before I turned 17 years old. I’ll leave it to you whether I was Serious at that age, but I was literal-minded — it was the last time I could sing “I am 16 going on 17” and be correct.)

Songs absorb and give off memories that way, like them or not. I got that memory back by listening to the song. If there is a song too closely associated in my mind with this spring, when my father died, I don’t think I’ll ever want to hear it again, just as I veer away from the music in a movie I sobbed over during my mother’s last illness. Technically, I can’t see “Finding Neverland” again, because I couldn’t see straight to see it the first time.

So, Mr. Zorn, while I love your idea of saving a sort of musical will, I don’t agree with saving the music until your memory’s going. I say listen — and let the memory live again.

That last phrase puts me back in the house I lived in for a semester in Valparaiso University’s program in Cambridge, England. The musical “Cats” hadn’t reached the U.S. yet, but some of my housemates saw it in London and brought home the soundtrack. The songs reverberated through the house in the evening… and one of them, “Memory,” got me started in the morning.

The window of the bedroom I shared with three other girls was near the streetlight, so I’d wake every morning when the light turned off. A familiar thump downstairs — mail, letters for all 12 girls in the house — followed immediately. I got out of bed and crept down the turning staircase to retrieve the letters. Only “Memory” would do for keeping me awake. In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s vivid words,

“The street lamp dies, another night is over, another day is dawning.”

It’s quite the reverse as I write this — in short, it’s almost sunset — yet just thinking of another part of “Memory” has set off the past four paragraphs or so. And that’s with unrelated music on the radio for my first draft and from the computer during this draft.

So I say don’t wait to be ill. Make those playlists by computer, or dig through your music in whatever format(s) you have.

Enjoy music and memories right now.


Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.


Filed under: Music and language

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