May 12th, 2011

pondering, bowie

Music and memory

So, I've been working on a novel for a little while now*, and have also been putting together a writing playlist. My protagonist is a teenager, and so the playlist heavily features music that I listened to when I was her age. Most of it is stuff that has remained favorite music through the years, although I've also unearthed a few forgotten faves.

An unexpected side effect of this has been having the occasional song knock loose some astonishingly vivid sense memories.

The first one was particularly random: I was lying in bed, listening to the album Children by the Mission U.K., and suddenly had an extremely vivid sense memory of the smell of the cassette insert. Children had this rather elaborate shiny insert with all the lyrics printed on it in faux calligraphy, and it had this very distinctive musty varnish-y smell. I used to spend hours as a teenager lying on the floor, listening to this album and reading the lyrics. (I had a stereo system with the speakers on the floor - if I turned the music up loud enough and lay on the floor, I could feel it as well as hear it.) It was about half a lifetime ago that I replaced the cassette with a CD (with odorless insert), and I've listened to the album countless times since without thinking about that smell.

A couple of days later, I heard the opening line of "Add It Up" by the Violent Femmes, and experienced an instant flash of humid summer afternoons, the taste of Nehi grape soda, and an atmosphere of unresolved sexual tension. (I keep wanting to turn this into the world's worst advertising slogan: "Nehi grape soda - the taste of humid summer afternoons and unresolved sexual tension.")

It's not unusual for songs to trigger memories, but it is unusual when a song completely bypasses verbal memory and goes straight to something like smell or taste. Have you ever had a song trigger a memory like that?

* I also seem to have reached a level of confidence in the project that I feel that I can talk about it without it popping like a soap bubble. Mostly.