MusicOpinion

Susman: That one song that takes you back



I rarely look back into the past; it’s done and over with, and there’s nothing I can do to change what already happened. Consequently, I don’t let on a whole lot about my own history. I make every effort possible not to dwell on things that have run its course.

But, every now and then, I’ll end up in a situation that forces me to glance back in time and with it comes a tornado of play-by-play memories.

Ninety-five percent of the time, I end up here as the result of some little thing that tripped me to look in the rear-view mirror. Before I know it, I’m off in a time machine back to some random moment years ago.

More often than not, music is the instigator of these mental retreats back in time. We’re all familiar with small, seemingly insignificant things that will always be associated with distant memories. Sometimes it’s a song, smell or an entire geographic location.

For many, a simple song lyric or tune is all it takes to elicit a powerful connection to the past, even if it’s just for a second.

Music has this incredible power to take you back to places and times you had long forgotten and likely never cared to go back to. Whether it’s tied to an ex-lover, a traumatic event or just an embarrassing moment, there always seems to be a song that anchors us to that memory forever.

Our brains are hardwired to associate certain events with what our senses were telling us during that time. It’s the same reason we still remember those godforsaken Schoolhouse Rock! jingles from long ago.

And now, you probably wouldn’t have to think twice about the elements that make up a proper sentence. Thanks to those videos, it’s unlikely you’ll ever forget. That’s the power of our mind’s musical association.

The same is true of just about any other significant memory. As much as you try to forget about what happened and move on with your life, some stupid song plays on the radio that does nothing but put you right back where you were when it happened.

You may start to think that if you force yourself to listen to the song a disgusting amount of times, maybe you’ll be able to scrap the past and associate the tune with a new memory. Try as you might, it’s nearly impossible.

Our mind forces us to associate music with tangible life incidents because that’s how we keep the past so neatly filed away. If our passive listening never struck the chord of something noteworthy, we would never be able to discern between this, that and the other thing.

It is for this reason only that I am somewhat thankful for music tethering me to the past. It’s obnoxious most of time, but there are occasionally moments when I’m glad I can recall something so vividly, all because of a catchy melody.

However, the extent of my gratitude is limited. I can be appreciative for a minute, but I immediately flip the script as soon as a grating anthem from my past takes me back.

The worst offenders are any of the six looping Christmas anthems that played shamelessly at my first retail job. I had no choice in hearing those songs to begin with, so the fact that I was forced to hear each one of them about nine times a day did little to get me in the holiday spirit.

I’m pretty sure if I hear “Christmas Wrapping” again, the memories associated with it would be melancholy at best.

Without a doubt, music is one of the greatest conductors of emotion. We usually don’t think twice about the small things that happen, and certainly less about how they make us feel. Nevertheless, there will always be a song to transport us back, for better or for worse.


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Grant Susman

Grant Susman