Of musical memories

Reports in the Economist (7 Oct 2010) about music purchasing made enlightening reading. It was not the fact that most purchasers of CDs are relatively elderly, i.e. in their 50s or 60s or older; it was not even that young people prefer ‘free’ downloads and file-sharing. Rather it was the comment that many adults have long believed that the music their teenage offspring listen to will not endure as long as the tunes they grew up with. But probably Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber or their like today will be just as popular when the teenagers reach for their slippers in 2050.
And then I think back to the long forgotten groups of the 1960s and 1970s that I listened to or even went to a concert. Who remembers “It’s a Beautiful Day!”? That’s the only forgotten group whose name I remember, probably because it was so odd.
Music dresses us in dreams. We can live and survive teenage and twenty-something angst, love, happiness and despair in the world constructed in the songs, even in the single chords, we hear at the time. Hearing the same tunes years later can take us back, and recreate our memories of those moments. It doesn’t matter how accurately we remember. The reconstruction acquires validity for us. Recreated memories can be extremely poignant.
Back in the 1960s I heard Stephane Grappelli in Paris. In the dreams of my memory it was a fantastic evening of scintillating jazz, with tunes such as ‘Nuages’, ‘Daphne’, and many more. Tunes to recall Django Reinhardt. I recall being there, but in truth I have to construct the dream. I did not know who Stephane Grappelli was, nor Django Reinhardt. I remember a feeling, an emotion of encountering quite simply arresting jazz. I only remember snippets of the occasion, but that’s enough to build the dream.
Sometimes the events themselves are very memorable, but the music takes on new meanings. When I had a part in ‘A Man for All Seasons’, the director used extracts from Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’. I remember my acting, more for my ineptitude, but I have never forgotten the Mussorgsky, and I am still dreaming the pictures after forty years. What was the picture of the ‘Ballet of unhatched chickens’ or what did ‘The hut on fowls’ legs’ look like?
The visual and audial world created by Lady Gaga will likely beget many dreams for today’s teenagers-plus just as the forgotten bands of my youth. I cannot recall anything about “It’s a Beautiful Day!”, but how could I not remember the next band on the same stage – their first performance in Europe: Santana.

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One Response to Of musical memories

  1. Jaro (Edmonton) says:

    It’s a very nice essay, Bob. I’ve been thinking many times about this subject as well.

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