Monday, September 04, 2006

Snap Her Up in a Butterfly Net, Pin Her Down on a Photograph Album

My mom told me that when I was around three years old the doctor told her not to let me watch Little House on the Prairie. I don't really remember that show, but evidently whenever Laura would cry, I would too. I'm sure I didn't understand why Laura or the other characters were crying, but nevertheless my mother would find me sobbing and saying "Poor Laura" over and over. Not much has changed in that regard as I find myself crying when others do even when I don't have a dog in the fight so to speak (i.e. I am not close to the bride or groom, but if their mother cries, I will too). That's manageable though as I'm not often around people crying.

Friday night as I drove five hours to the beach, I was reminded of the not-fun part of being such a cry baby and so easily absorbing others' emotions. The not fun part is that I cannot listen to a lot of the music that I love as much as I'd like because I'll get really down. For example, I love Counting Crows' music. I think August and Everything is one of the best albums ever, and it still amazes me that it was the bands' freshman album. But if I listen to some of the songs on that CD for more than about ten minutes, I seriously feel depressed--obviously not clinically depressed but definitely not my usual happy self.

My propensity for being easily affected by music is one reason (of several) that I do not listen to much country music. One country artist I do enjoy is Pat Green. The first time I heard Wave on Wave was at the beginning of a four hour drive home last year. I put the song on repeat and proceeded to cry for the next two hours. I LOVE the song, but I usually avoid listening to it because crying just isn't fun (unless it's caused by intense laughter in which case I love it).

And some songs that aren't that sad make me feel down because they bring back such strong feelings of nostalgia. Jewel's "Standing Still" takes me exactly back to a very merry Christmas I spent with a boyfriend, and although it should be a happy memory, it isn't. All of my memories with boyfriends, no matter how fun the experience was, are bittersweet. I wish it wasn't that way, but it is.

But just like songs can conjure sad memories, they can take me right back to fun times--like the baton routines we had to "We Built this City" and "Electric Youth." Or the time my best friend and I saw Matchbox Twenty for $5 in an audience of less than 100 people. Or just flipping to a radio station and hearing a catchy song that I can't help but smile when I hear.

It must be awesome to be so artistically talented to move people to tears or joy. The ability to string words together to emotionally affect people in such a strong way is such a tremendous gift, and I'm grateful for the people who are blessed with that gift and all of the fantastic ways we can access music now. I can't imagine making a five hour drive without it.

Here's the house I stayed in with 16 strangers this weekend and the view from the porches--absolutely fantastic. Despite work seriously interfering with my time, it was a relaxing weekend--the beach makes it easy to forget everything and wearing a bikini beats out a suit every day.


Aaron said...

Such an articulate blog on Music! Something here that everyone can relate to! :)

I don't have emotions tied to very many songs, but the few that I do contain very vivid memories. You might (not) be surprised to learn that there is a simple psychological explanation for why. Take notes, there will be a test on this later.

Following the paralysis of my short term memory (nearly 10 years ago!) I had enough clinical time between a Psychiatrist and Neurologist to discuss ways to improve my (then) terrible short-term memory. Basically: We tend to clearly recall the smallest details tied to periods of time in which we experience strong emotion. If you were to tell someone something random, chances are they may not recall it when asked later. But, if you were to tell someone the same random bit of information and make them laugh or piss them off during the course of the conversation – they will probably remember every minute detail surrounding the conversation.

This is the reason why most people have an “our song” or not-so-fond/fond memories that accompany certain songs. It is because you unknowingly (or perhaps otherwise) identify specific emotions that were tied to the events surrounding when the song was heard.

Or, this could be a bunch of psycho-babble I just creatively made up and you’re listening to country music that was meant to make you cry anyway. Your mileage may vary. :P

Ally said...

Aaron, thank you for the explanation. That makes sense to me. It doesn't explain why I cry at songs with which I have no associated memory, but it does clear up why a song can bring make such vivid feelings and memories.

Anonymous said...

Yes as Aaron correctly diagnosed this is simply phcho-babble. one will find that the most amazingly accurate associative sense with memory is smell. This has been confirmed is may tests done in recent history including one with which I was Personally involved in the late '90s . It is true that hovever, that individuals will sometimes have songs that will remind them of Memorable or nonmemorable moments in their life and for no apparent reason. See -Cognitive Sensations and Memories- published in 2002 and can be found in any public library or find more info on the net. DR RJJ