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Music Memories - An Article on How Songs Help You Write Your Life Story

"Striking a Chord for Memory"

by Tom Gilbert © 2004

You have experienced this many times in your life. A song comes on the radio or stereo and you are instantly transported back in time. For some people the memories resurrected from a well-loved song are so powerful that your senses participate. Again you see, hear, smell, taste and even touch the time the song evokes.

Why all this happens probably has something to do with how our brains work, but I'll leave that to the scientific community. All I know is music can be a great way to help us reminisce. There are countless songs from my past that always heighten my recall of days gone by. This is especially true when the songs are about relationships and events that speak specifically to our stories

The next time you hear "Remember When" by Alan Jackson, one of country music's biggest artists, you'll walk back in time. How can you not?

Remember when thirty seemed so old
Now lookin' back, it's just a steppin' stone
To where we are,
where we've been
Said we'd do it all again
Remember when

The song is sung over the backing of a softly strumming mandolin and the bittersweet lyrics are as good a tug on heartstrings as you will find from country music's vast collection of tear-jerkers. However, the song is not maudlin. It's a tribute to a life lived with all its ups and downs and the good and bad.

Remember when old ones died and new were born
And life was changed, disassembled, rearranged
We came together, fell apart
And broke each other's hearts
Remember when

Ultimately Jackson sings of the full circle satisfaction that a long life of marriage can bring.

Remember when we said when we turned gray
When the children grow up and move away
We won't be sad, we'll be glad
For all the life we've had
And we'll remember when

Musicians and songwriters, just like writers and anyone answering the call of the muses, understand the power of eliciting memory through verse and note. Precisely because it activates our senses and memories in such a vivid way is why you should consider songs an important part of your life story process. Go through your CD's, tapes and even (gosh!) vinyl records and just pulling out some of those old favorites will start activating long dormant recollections. Make a list of your favorite songs and then assemble them (CD, cassette, mp3) and go for a drive. I guarantee this will help you discover more of the story you want to preserve.

Of course, music plays a bigger part in the lives of some than others. I've spent most of my career involved in the radio industry and I make no bones about the major motivation. I wanted to work where I could play music I liked and I'm just not a good enough musician! So, being a radio DJ was the next best thing.

It doesn't matter whether the songs are by big band swing crooners, heavy metal rockers, country twangers, classical pianists, alternative-post-modern-grunge rock or contemporary pop hits. If the music was, and is, part of your life, it's valid.

Often when you take just the lyrics you'll be surprised what the music genre is:

Another turning point;
a fork stuck in the road.

Time grabs you by the wrist;
directs you where to go.

So make the best of this test
and don't ask why.

It's not a question
but a lesson learned in time.

It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

Unless you are familiar with Green Day, or maybe the TV series Seinfeld which used the song for one of their highlight episodes, you might attribute those lyrics to someone's poetical memoir.

These songs are all around us. You've got a great story to tell - you've heard it from me before. Let the music take you there.

There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

The Beatles "In My Life"

One of the greatest joys I've had from playing music on the radio - or even on the stereo and making tapes for friends - is taking a musical journey. It's extremely rare for radio to have freedom like that anymore, but there are still some of us who can "take you there". If you want help finding songs that "take you back" feel free to drop me an email.

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