Friday, February 13, 2009


"Park the car at the side of the road
You should know
Time's tide will smother you
And I will too"

I am forever perplexed by my mind's ability to retain certain pieces of information, while other thoughts or memories disintegrate like paper through a shredder. I am confident that there are certain well adored song lyrics that will remain readily accessible until the moment of my last breath, whereas some things of seemingly vital importance are treated like disposable ephemera by my rather fickle mind. My mind is a temperamental beast that often resists my futile efforts towards inducing submission.

I was amazed recently by my lyrical recall abilities when I began to dive back into some beloved songs by one of my favourite bands of yore, The Smiths (courtesy of the recent "Sound of the Smiths" compilation - more on this in another post).

Some of the songs I hadn't listened to for a good 7 or 8 years and I was genuinely amazed at the instant familiarity with every lyric. My memory was working in auto pilot as I took in each song and basked in the glorious visceral experience of actively engaging with the music.

I also know that it wasn't simply my mind responding to the obvious prompt of being exposed to something familiar; all of this was so embedded in my mind and I was acutely aware that even during my half decade long Smiths listening drought I would still occasionally run through entire song lyrics in my mind.

To put my "working memory" in context, I usually have to request a password reset on a bi-weekly basis at work for my desktop, as the rather "obvious" passwords I choose are often snubbed by my mind like saltines and cheese whiz at a fancy dinner party. Needless to say, my ability to remember pretty well every lyric to the entire Smiths catalogue is no small accomplishment.

I am fairly confident that I will take pretty well every song by The Smiths to the grave with me. Somehow, if I am blessed enough to live into my 80's I think I'll be humming "Cemetry Gates" or "These Things Take Time" as some hapless care aid wheels me down the hallway and has to hear me rant about the brilliant concert in '86 one more time.

Without a doubt there will be times when I utter these classic lyrics with glee as I stumble about awkwardly (complete with some helpful visuals from Monty Python for good measure);

My totally baseless and unproven scientific theory is that there is a distinct reason why the songs that we listen to during our adolescent years become so embedded in our minds. It is not exclusively the result of nostalgia, but partially connected to the new neural pathways that are opening during this period of intense brain development.

The songs we listen to during this time weave themselves through these new pathways, and perhaps in many ways inspire their growth. Your memory can't help put recall the indelible imprints that first visit these new areas of the brain that are still pliable and less static. Listening to certain songs on a repeated basis in a rather obsessive manner certainly helps as well.

Regardless of how shaky my theory is I am confident that there will always be a firm place for a number of these songs in my otherwise perilous mind. Even if I can't remember the PIN for my ATM card or recall half the birthdays in my family (I have been rescued many times by those wonderful facebook birthday alerts) I will certainly be softly humming "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" up until the time that the lights actually do in fact go out for me.

Are there lyrics or songs that your brain will likely never be able to shake, regardless of what happens to your mental capacity over time?


Barbara Bruederlin said...

You know that Keats and Yeats are on your side!

At least you will go out accompanied by some pretty great, or at least pretty hilarious, lyrics. Sadly, if the theory about lyrics from adolescent being forever memorable is correct (and it is certainly backed by current science), then I will go out humming staying alive staying alive.

robyn bright said...

Ohh this resonates as true to me!

My most intensly remembered lyric is Ne w Model Army's "oh god I love the world I love the world I love there world"- not sure if that counts but I think the memory of the intense mixture of pain and euphoria in my teenaged heart all comes flooding back whenever I say that line.

ddyment said...


this could be a false recollection, but i have a strong memory of you leaving the mall food court and going to Coles bookstore to find a dictionary. you returned having looked up the word 'inept', thrilled that a pop song had expanded your vocabulary.

hope yer well. looking fwd to seeing you in april.


Randal Graves said...

Your theory sounds about right, and I think one could add that during moments of heightened emotion, whatever is being spun might resonate a bit deeper than it otherwise would.

I still recall - mainly because I still listen to - a lot of albums from that time frame, but others since I've 'grown up' stick in my craw just as much for various reasons.

Allison said...

I like your theory. I was lulled into a little bit of nostalgia while listening to the Stone Roses on the road. However, RHCP, specifically the Californication album - had me at hello, and I can still recall lyrics to this day off the top of my head. They feel like home.

Beach Bum said...

I agree with your theory because I've seen young kids watch a television commercial once and know everything about it like the music, the advantages of the product, and even impersonating the voice of whomever is talking. Its kind of freaky.

What sticks in my head are 70's and 80's country music tunes that my grandfather listened to while I rode with him. Use to hate those songs but as have come to like them as the years go by.

Thats for stopping by my place.

Liberality said...

I agree with Randall. There are albums today that get stuck in my head. It depends upon how deeply the music and lyrics touch you. As a teenager, you tend to have more time to devote to music listening and enjoyment so maybe that's why the memories last.

Anonymous said...

I'm in my late 50's now and my adolescense was mid-60's to 1974 (when I turned 21).
I think you are half-correct when you state that the songs of your teen years are the most embedded as I can probably recite chapter and verse of Stones, Beatles, Kinks, not to mention numerous of the top 40 hits of those days (both AM & FM).
But I also know that it is the songs that are truly memorable in some way that stay in my mind, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, even Donna Summer from the 70's, Flock Of Seagulls, Echo & the Bunnymen, Ultravox (John Foxx years as well as Midge Ure), Smiths, Depeche Mode, even Yaz & Erasure & Pet Shop Boys & Michael Jackson from the 80's, Chameleons UK, New Order & Nirvana in the 90's to Cut Copy's "Hearts On Fire" that came out last year.
It's the songs themselves, the hooks & lyrics that sell the song to me and that burn it into my memory so I'll never forget.

Torch 1971