The music map of me, and you

(Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart)

In most cultures around the world, in some way, our lives are linked to music. It might be through traditional songs that tell stories of our culture, it might be from songs in the music charts, it might be songs you hear on a tv show, or it might be songs used to stir emotions which on the surface might seem more primitive, but have a deep underlying resonance. Underlying this might be how we universally have an innate capability to understand music, and to distinguish different musical notes and tones, even if we understand none of it. “This is your brain on music” by Daniel Levitin is an excellent book on this subject, but that is a different blog piece. I’m interested on a different take, and in particular how it works in Western cultures.

Any excuse to mention this album again huh?

Much as songs are used in some cultures to document historical events, and passed on from generation to generation, Western cultures experience this in a different way. There is so much music around these days, and we get exposed to a lot of it. We might have similar interests in music, and have experienced different events with the same music, but all our experience will be different. If you were able to draw a map highlighting how music has impacted your life, you will see that certain songs or pieces of music link to certain events. It could be that you like a song a lot and use it at a significant life event such as a wedding, or it might just be that something was playing as something happened. I’m not talking about your favourite tracks necessarily, it might not be something you chose, or even like, but nevertheless, in some way it is linked. If you were able to somehow extract all these different songs and pieces of music, you would have a music map of you. It would need some translation, but I would hazard a guess that everyones map would be quite different, even if some destinations are shared. I wrote a short piece of fiction called “the unusual map” that began to explore this idea, which I published on the blog last week, however let me examine that idea further with some examples from my life.

In the early days of January 1994, I was in a branch of the long since departed UK music chain “Our Price”, actually one of the earliest casualties of music downloads, and approached a listening post. They had on several not big selling, but critical hits from the year before to listen to. One of these was “Giant Steps” from a band called The Boo Radleys. I had heard of the album, it being Select magazine, and the NME’s album of the year. I had not hear anything from it. I listened to first track “I hang suspended” and immediately knew it was for me. I bought the album. It subsequently soundtracked a significant part of college, and my first year of university, and is still one of my all time favourite albums. This one event however, had a big influence on where my music tastes went, and as regular readers know, I’m a big fan of music.

Sometime in the early 2000’s I was in a fast car with a good friend of mine. He was driving down country lanes at night far too fast. Don’t worry he said, I know these roads well. He has pretty much terrible taste in music. The track playing at the time was “Money for nothing” by Dire Straits, not a favourite of mine it has to be said. I was convinced as a music snob of varying degrees, that I was going to die an ironic death soundtracked to this. Thankfully we got home safe although every time I hear that track now it still reminds me of that drive.

I have an album I like a lot but by someone not really cool, which I call my guilty pleasure. I won’t tell you what that is, because I have a post about it soon.

Bunsen burner” a fun track by musics biggest failure (his words), John Ottway, was a nice live moment which myself and my then girlfriend, now wife, experienced at the half moon pub in Putney back in 2007. It was unexpected fun as we thought the gig would be crap, and still reminds us of those early days together and what seems quite a different time back in England.

“Changes” a track by Sugar I originally got in 1992 on a cassette from long dead UK music magazine “Vox”was incredibly significant in where my music tastes went, even more so than the Boo Radleys. The album the track came from “Copper Blue” was the first CD I ever bought, and one of my favourite all time albums. I heard this album played live by Bob Mould last week in its entirety which I loved. This cassette moment reminds me of my old walkman, some lazy times hiding in my bedroom at my parents house, a fun time in buying / reading the music press, as I discovered a lot of new things, and evenings this summer blasting the remastered version of the album through great headphones. That track and album lives with me.

Elbow’s beautiful track “One day like this” which has become a wedding favourite, was used as the money dance for my wedding. It obviously reminds me of that, actually one of my favourite parts of the wedding, but also of the times around it, and of leaving most of my family to move to the US. If you don’t know the track, take five minutes to check it out below. I’ll be surprised if you don’t like it.

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These are just a few of the destinations on what would be my music map. An alternative way of looking at your life and how it has been affected in some way by a small part of your culture. I hope you followed what I was getting at, maybe found the journey interesting, and hopefully made you think of some significant links in your life. If you have time, tell me below of a destination on your map, the track and how it relates to you.

On another occasion I think I might revisit the character from the short fiction and use him as part of a different story. But that is a different post.

Lexicon word of the day: distrain.

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25 comments on “The music map of me, and you

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Nothing transports me back in time more than music. Makes me remember what I was doing years ago in a way nothing else can.

  2. I enjoyed the song very much! Music has been an integral part of my life in so many ways. Sometimes I love the way a song can take me right back to a place I was before and other times a song can bring such sadness. Great post! πŸ™‚

    • Elliot says:

      Thanks Sheila, you know how much I love music. Elbow are a great band, if you get chance to check more of their work out. There is probably a lot to watch on youtube if interested. I also keep meaning to ask you, do you like Fiona Apple? Her latest is v good, and she is very clever with how she uses her voice with different phrases which becomes more apparent after a few listens. I figured you might find it interesting given your interests in writing poetry and short fiction, the little angles she plays.

      • You know I haven’t given Fiona Apple enough of a chance before – it’s been a while, but I just listened to Every Single Night and wow, it’s brilliant! Thanks for the suggestion. She’s set the bar pretty high with this one…

      • Elliot says:

        I only recently started listening to her, but her latest is a good one.

  3. Wow, how is it that I had never heard this before? What a great song, I’m a sucker for anything with a violin anyway. The harmony, the lyrics, it’s going on to my playlist. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Elliot says:

      Glad you liked it. Check out more of their stuff on youtube if you are interested, as you might like some more. The live at Abbey road material is very good. I like a lot of their material, their take on “emotional” rock. I’m surprised they haven’t really been discovered over here other than by music fans.

  4. jmmcdowell says:

    A few opening chords can take me back years to certain places and events. The morning after Ronald Reagan was first elected, I awoke to my radio alarm, and “Bad Moon Rising” was just starting. I wondered if it was a foreshadowing. πŸ˜‰

    • Elliot says:

      It’s kind of that idea coupled with some memories that might not be as strong, or songs that get tied to you without you realizing. If you could index them and read them it would be a unique fingerprint.

  5. Margarita says:

    I like the idea of a music map. Very clever! xoxoM

  6. legionwriter says:

    Music and smells do what your describing more than anything. David Gray’s “Please Forgive Me” always brings me back to the time I first met my wife.

    • Elliot says:

      Its an interesting memory trigger. It is a shame I cannot access my brain like a computer and download all the tracks linked to things, and see what they all are.

  7. Weirdly, I’ve never quite thought of music in that way, as a thread that runs through your life, through which you can trace parts of your identity. For me it was listening to music with my dad, Elvis Costello’s Oliver’s Army, or my Mum’s obsession with Simon & Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy, which always makes me think of them. And countless others. Recently I started getting nostalgic for my 13-yr old love of Queen’s greatest hits, it’s amazing how it fills you full of nostalgia to listen to that stuff.

    • Elliot says:

      Underscoring it is the way humans can innately understand different notes therefore being able to follow songs and get something from it. That it sits in our mind and is a good trigger for memories, is interesting to me, so I wondered how it would look from the other side.

      Oliver’s Army reminds me of buying 7 inch singles in my late teens, and picking that one up cheap.

      • Heh, yeah, economic necessity forced me to choose all sorts of music I wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with. To my good, I think. Plus all those bad copies of Pixies cassettes and anybody Indie. I wonder if you tried how long it would take you to create a giant timeline and memory bank of all those musical relationships between a song and a period of time or particular moment. One day, perhaps technology will take us there πŸ™‚

  8. It’s funny I can play a cd and instantly flash back to that period in my life. Only music and scents have that ability for me. πŸ™‚

    • Elliot says:

      Yes it is interesting the way music works as a memory trigger, and also interesting the way our brains have the ability to understand it (different tones etc), even if on the surface we don’t understand it at all.

  9. anne says:

    I had Elbows one day like this played at my wedding too. It reminds me how much I love my husband when ever I hear it. Reminds me also how much we’ve accomplished together.

    A friend of mine had an idea like yours, she asked “what would be the sound track to your life?” Very good question by her and a very good post by you.

    xoxoxoxo

  10. DyingNote says:

    This is very, very interesting Elliot. And it makes sense, our listening of music being so personal. Practically every post on my blog is a plot on my ‘music map’, sometimes more than one point as in my latest.

    That aside, you’ve made me reach out for the Elbow albums that I have. Ah! joy!

    • Elliot says:

      I think, clearly because you are a music fan, but in sync with your blog, that yes you are more in tune with your music map. You like to think about what you listen to, why, what it might mean or be about. I find that interesting. It is a shame we cannot view others music maps. I would be interested to see someone who has no interest in music other than the odd track, what things show up that they had not really realized, or thought about.

      Cannot beat a bit of Elbow from time to time. I picked them up quite early on when a friend of mine, through a friend of his, had a promo of the first album, that he gave me a copy of. Actually I recently bought the reissued version of that first album with the live tracks / sessions.

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