I wrote the other day about Lauryn Hill, about “Ex-Factor” and one perfect moment. Because of course each time I hear that song I’m back in that moment for a second, can even feel the pressure of his hand on mine.
There are songs that bring you back to a moment of happiness and songs that bring you back to a moment or a several-month period of unhappiness. I can’t listen to Tori Amos’s “Hey Jupiter” without remembering, viscerally, what it’s like to be sixteen and feel absolutely alone in the world. Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” reminds me of a boy that isn’t worth remembering, and the insecurity I was wracked with when I thought he was.
There’s a comic book that exquisitely illustrates this process–I wrote about Phonogram for The Awl, but to understand it really you should track it down–about the process of feelings and moments being trapped in a bit of music. The writer calls them “curse songs,” but they can also be a blessing if you’re the kind of person who needs to write things down and needs to find that place where that feeling’s been stored inside.
Sense memories are the strongest, I think. I can tell a story and call up a specific memory, but when a smell or a taste reminds me of a moment it’s that much more immediate, that much more real. Music hits on that same level, in your heart and gut before your brain even has a chance to respond. It’s the difference between thinking and feeling.
[Video: Robyn performs “Be Mine!” ballad-style at the Nobel Peace Prize concert. I cry.]
Some songs are emotional for me because of their content–“Thunder Road” never appeared at a pivotal moment for me but its lyrics send my heart racing anyway, and Robyn’s “Be Mine!” captures years of heartaches and rolls them all out for me in a wave.
Others are supremely unemotional songs that happened to be on when something shifted. Sitting in a B&B room by myself one night, I switched on a playlist I’d made days earlier and Bowie’s “Andy Warhol” was the song that pushed me over the edge into cathartic tears. I’m afraid to listen to it too often anymore.
It’s something I can never quite put my finger on but I use certain songs to play my own emotions like a musical instrument, to change the way I feel (as long as I can handle feeling something intensely).
Which songs do it for you?