shadow memories

Posted: June 26, 2012 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The elusive “they” say music is one of our strongest memory inducers. You can hear a song and be immediately transported back to a specific time and place from your life, the details of that moment as vivid as if you had just lived it. It is one of the brilliant powers of music – and one of the best. I know whenever I hear Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World I am once again in the 8th grade cafeteria where the 45 rpm single spins effortlessly on a portable turntable. I am watching the girls dance together, wondering about their incomprehensible mysteries and secrets. I feel as if I could literally reach out and grab this memory, hold it in my hand and examine it as one would any relic. Those times hold a certain sentimental place in my life and heart. I don’t long to actually go back and relive them, but it is awfully nice basking in their memory, if just for a few minutes. I suppose that is the essence of nostalgia. I wonder if my remembrances would be quite so strong and warm without music, without the spark provided by Joy to the World. Maybe they would, but who can say? All I know is that song opens the passageway to memories I may otherwise have never recovered. That is why I find it incredibly odd that music from the 1940’s, music recorded long before I was born, does the same thing.

Dorsey and Sinatra, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Andrews Sisters, Harry James, Les Brown & His Band of Renown, Benny Goodman, and on and on. Whenever I hear songs from the 40’s, especially from the first half of that decade, I am standing in a dimly lit USO Hall where war-bound soldiers cling to taxi dancers on a smoke-filled dance floor. Or I am seated in a plush booth of an exotically themed nightclub where big bands play into the wee hours and cigarette girls circle the floor pushing Chesterfields and Lucky Strikes. Sometimes I am simply in a home I do not recognize filled with relatives I do not know listening to these songs pour forth from the radio console like a minor miracle.

I don’t suppose it is proper to call this phenomenon nostalgia, at least not the kind of nostalgia spun from things we have experienced. When I bother to analyze it I realize my associations with that era have been greatly influenced by movies and television. Also, both my parents lived through the 40’s. Indeed, the music which sparks my shadow memories was the music of their youth. Perhaps that has something to do with it. I don’t know. What I do know is when the Pied Pipers harmonize, “I’ll never smile again…” and a young Sinatra swoops in and croons “…until I smile at you” as the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra underlines the proceedings with smooth reassurance, I feel as if I am reliving a very real moment from my life, one which never actually happened. And that is pretty cool.

  1. I love music that`s nostalgic 🙂

    It gives listening to it a greater experience.


  2. kayjai says:

    Wow..past lives AND music…I too, enjoy the 40’s stuff. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!


  3. Patti Kuche says:

    When we are young the past is such a foreign country, so far away and yet, as we grow older, we realise just how near we were to that past what with the steady drip of influence from our parents who were of course so much younger then. Only we didn’t know that then either!

    I always get a lump in my throat whenever I hear Bing Crosby sing “True Love” but the memory of Jeremiah being a bullfrog certainly does bring joy. Great post!


  4. I always knew you were sentimental at heart.


  5. Edward Hotspur says:

    I am one of the ‘they’, cause I say that all the time.


  6. Sandy (above) may be on to something…or maybe (as I suspect) you’re an incurable romantic. Which, of course, is a good thing. I can relate to what you’re saying. I, too, have that affinity for music of the 40s. I don’t remember my folks listening to it (they were almost strictly C&W fans and though I endured endless hours of the voices of people I didn’t like, I did discover Hank Williams, so it’s all good). My uncle Ed played 40s music at his camp and that might be where I first discovered it, although the fire was fanned by my good friend Dave Jessup who is an authority on music of that era. At any rate, it’s something I love. (As for the odd “memories” that come with music that shouldn’t have any, I had the same experience with a particular classical piece. Strange moment.)


  7. isai27 says:

    Nice to read you!


  8. Or maybe you’re reliving a previous life…..


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