leads there little bear band,
they all play together
and the music is grand.
from Bears in a Band
written by Shirley Parenteau
illustrated by David Walker
accessed on YouTube 11/6/23
The day before “Now and Then,” was released, (the last song to be released by The Beatles), my grandson sent me a link to a short documentary about its origins, the history of writing it, and how they were able to use AI technology to record it.
Paul narrated most of the story, but Ringo had lots to say, too. John’s son, Sean, spoke of his father and how lucky he feels to have had those four men in his life.
I sent back a text to my grandson thanking him for sending me the short film. As I watched it, I told him, I felt like my brain was time-traveling. I saw the four Beatles as they appeared in 1964, a little shaggier than “clean-cut.” Clips of their psychedelic phase were plugged in, too. Each as an individual, and each as an important member of the group. And the music. And the late 60s, and what came next. As I watched and listened to the clip from 1964, I imagined myself as I was then, and my grandson as he is now, about the same age as The Beatles were then. Those images were superimposed on each other. We were all together.
I felt a mix of excitement for this “new” music and nostalgia for those “golden oldies.”
Why does music have such a powerful emotional effect on us?
“[Music] provides an auditory and emotional setting that allows us to retrieve [our] memories,” says Andrew Budson. He’s chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology, associate chief of staff for education, and director of the Center for Translational Cognitive Neuroscience at Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System. His website is worth the click.
Experts look at different kinds of memory to understand the effects music has on our brains. Two types of long-term memory are involved when we listen to music. Procedural memory is implicit. Routines we do without thinking like tying our shoes, brushing our teeth, cooking a familiar dish without a recipe, reciting a poem or speech we have memorized, and singing and performing our favorite songs feel automatic. We do them without needing a plan. Have you seen Lady Gaga’s performance with Tony Bennett? Even in the throws of Alzheimer’s Disease, he sings one of his hits after another flawlessly.
It’s what’s at work when Jiminy Cricket sings E-N-C-Y-C-L-O-P-E-D-I-A. Or the Animaniacs sing their State Capitols song to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw.” Watch it on YouTube.
Episodic memory is explicit and comes into play when we consciously remember things like a recent trip, a major life event like our graduation or wedding, the first day of a new job. It’s particular. Another person sharing that experience will probably remember it differently.
Music triggers our episodic memory. It’s what allows us to time travel when we hear the song that was playing on the radio when we or our prom date rang the doorbell. We can picture our outfit, how the corsage smelled, what kind of weather we experienced and what kind of car we drove.
It all depends on a healthy hippocampus. That’s the structure in our brain that sits in a direct line between our ears. It’s always “on” recording thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations. It’s the job of the hippocampus to gather all those pieces of our memory into a whole recollected experience.
And lots of time it’s a familiar song or piece of music that allows the whole memory to engulf us.
I was eleven and a half years old when the Beatles visited the United States and performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Their sound rocked my world. They were all we could talk about at school. We all picked our favorites. Mine was John, even then. Most of the girls in my class liked Paul the best. He was the cutest, they said. Some argued for George. Ringo usually came in last.
My sister and I lay stomach down on the living room carpet to watch, riveted, as they sang “All My Loving,” “Till There was You,” and “She Loves You.” They returned to sing “I Saw Her Standing There” and finished up with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I had to look all that up, of course, but when I did, I was back on the floor, next to my sister. Their sound, filling the living room, felt new. Their look was new. We baby boomers felt we were on the edge of something earth-shaking and new. We were right.
“Now and Then.” Thanks for the memories!
I’m reading Democracy Awakening by Heather Cox Richardson. (Penguin Publishing Group/Viking, 2023). I’m not very far in, but so far it’s well-researched, interesting, and readable. More next week.
-—Be curious! (and keep a song in your heart)