I 'own' around 10,000 songs -- some on CDs, some on tapes (yes, remember those?), most on iTunes.
Of these iTunes, over 450 feature in the playlist currently rotating on my iPod shuffle.
Of these, I reckon that at least 80% of these, when played in a random order, will respectively trigger a specific memory.
Of these, a decent number will trigger indirect memories -- they'll be associated with a TV programme for example (Suddenly, by Angry Anderson will remind me of Scott and Charlene's wedding in Neighbours) but then the memory of that programme will trigger other memories of how my life
Some have multiple memories attached to them: any song from Gabrielle's Rise album from 2001 can either trigger a memory of working in an investment company, spending a lot of time with two particular friends (usually where tequila was involved) and holing up in a local pub for very long lunches. Equally the same album can remind me of a short story I wrote around the same time.
Gabrielle – Rise
The other songs in the playlist will trigger direct memories. Flicking through, Everlasting Love by Love Affair is a song my rock choir is covering for our next concert. But it's also a song that reminds me of driving home from my great-uncle's place near Bognor Regis listening to my mum's Sixties compilation on my Walkman.
The Love Affair – Everlasting Love
Smells are the same. Just the other day a woman walked past me wearing a certain perfume and all at once a memory darted in front of my eyes. It was gone in less than a second and I can't pinpoint it now but at the time, and for that split-second it was vivid, an out-of-body experience. On a walk last Sunday morning the smell of cut grass took me back to my grandparents' back garden, playing on the swing set as a child. I must have smelled cut grass hundreds of times in my life since but that is the memory that has stuck. Apparently we lock onto the first memory we have of smelling a smell and this memory is the one that comes back.
There is a science behind these triggers -- smell-memory is all to do with the olfactory bulb or 'emotional brain', and apparently music activates certain neurons. (I won't dwell on this for too long at the risk of revealing that I don't reaaaally understand the science bit that well.)
What I do understand is that music, and scent, are as invaluable (if not more valuable) as old photos and film for providing that snapshot into our past and every so often reawakening a memento long buried.
At the moment I'm fixed on listening to music from the late 80s -- you know the sort: Stock-Aitken-Waterman-issue perky pop. Kylie. Jason. Big Fun. Sonia. Rick Astley.
Yes, Rick Astley.
And immediately I'm 10, 11 years old (all right, I may have listened to some of this into my early teens but that's not important right now). I'm sitting on my bedroom floor drawing, or cutting up travel brochures as I was wont to do at that age. (Best not to ask.) I'm writing an epic in multicoloured Berol pens.
Or I'm on a residential school trip in my last year of junior school, and I look a bit like this:
|qb and friends, age 10.|
egads, the size of those glasses...!
Wherever I am when these songs trigger memories, it's a happy place. But it's become self-perpetuating of late. I'm not suggesting I'm unhappy but if I want to tap into my ultimate, uninhibited happy, cranking up a tune like this:
Yazz – The Only Way Is Up
will lift my spirits immediately.
Just call it regression therapy.