“Then I will be the Singer and not the Song…”

29 Dec

It’s funny what will strike you at weird moments. My son and I were watching a TV show from about 10 years ago and a song was used in the background that took me back to when I first heard it. How is it that memory is keyed so haphazardly?

It was actually a really good cover of that song–Roll the Dice by Beth Orton–my friend burned the entire album off Napster (yes, it’s THAT old) after I exclaimed how much I liked one of her songs. Interestingly enough, I really like the Superpinkymandy album, which was all moody and really innovative. Then she went more pop-ish and I lost interest. (shrug) So it goes. That happened to Toad the Wet Sprocket for me. Loved their albums up to when they did the Friends songs, which was far more pop, and they lost everything that I liked about them. But hey, they probably sold more records, so what do I know? 🙂

Getting back to the song–the cover was really good, and keyed to someone else’s memory–it was used first on an episode of the O.C. (a show I have never seen) five years earlier than the show I was watching, and apparently, people really enjoyed it there. My guess is that although we could–in theory–recall every memory we’ve ever had, only the stuff that has an emotion tied to it can come faster to the surface. I mean, if I really try, I can start thinking about my childhood home, start imagining what was in there, and then remember certain mundane things that happened there.

But, of course, I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t used the stronger memory of the place–the emotion of other memories tied to that location–to find the other memories hiding below the surface. For example, if I need to think about the two years I spent in Lawrence, Kansas, I instantly remembering cooking the green peas that we grew in our backyard, because that was an accomplishment for a six-year-old me. Then it gets to making grilled cheese sandwiches with dad, playing with Rachel and Stephanie up the hill, and drawing pictures on the cinder blocks that some construction firm so kindly left for us for four weeks. 🙂 I can’t remember what our living room was like, but I remember the kitchen, my bedroom (vaguely), and my dad’s office.

So I get to the how–now to the why. Why is our memory coded like that? My thought: it keeps us sane. If we had instant recall of everything we ever did, my God, would that drive us crazy! I remember watching a great documentary called Born on a Blue Day, which is all about an autistic man who can do complex math very quickly and can learn languages incredibly fast. An amazing accomplishment to be sure, but it comes at the cost of being unable to function in other parts of life. He has a functional disability–other people with the same condition can remember the weather on any day of their life, but only to the effect that it was hot, or rainy, or cold. As superpowers go, he got the short-end of the stick.

Have you got a better theory? Can you remember extreme detail about mundane things? Have you been blessed/cursed with an eidetic memory? Let me know about it in the comments below!

One Response to ““Then I will be the Singer and not the Song…””

  1. Piano girl December 29, 2020 at 11:22 am #

    I don’t remember extreme details, but certain music does bring instant memories. More about people, feelings, places. 😊

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