Wow. The past couple have weeks have seen a spike in deaths of music artists from my youth. David Bowie and Glenn Frey. Both evoke a lot of nostalgia from different eras of growing up for me.
My favorite Eagles song is probably “One of These Nights”. I was 10 when it came out in 1975. That song, like a handful of others from the 70’s, has the ability to transport me back in time and space. For me, “One of These Nights” will always evoke my childhood in Hershey Pennsylvania, and in particular, the summer of 1975 and my mom driving me and my brothers to go fishing in our old station wagon (which of course was wood paneled and had the 3rd row seat that faced backwards. Hard for me to believe now that I could sit there while it was moving without puking. Ah youth.).
That summer, my brothers were obsessed with fishing, and my mom, God love her, was game to take them all over Central Pennsylvania to try to catch the big (or little) ones. Let’s just say I was not into fishing that much (as I recall, I preferred to use corn and marshmallows for bait over worms), but I loved to be part of whatever my brothers were doing and that summer, dammit, it was fishing. “One of These Nights” will always transport me back to those summer days, tooling around in the station wagon with my family.
David Bowie came into the picture for me several years later. My cool older brother often introduced me to music in those days. Prior to that, I was pretty much a “top 40” only listener only (remember Casey Kasem’s countdown? We couldn’t wait to see what would be #1 each week!). What Bowie brings back for me is day trips for skiing to our local hill called “Roundtop”. My brother would drive us in our station wagon and have the local FM rock station (WTPA) blasting on the car stereo. One song they played a lot was Bowie’s “Suffragette City”. I had (and probably still have) no idea what that song is about, but I love its driving beat, swagger and “wham bam thank you ma’am!”. For me, that song is linked to skiing, Roundtop mountain and starting to feel my teenage oats.
Isn’t it amazing that songs can bring us back to such places and times? Research has found that adults remember autobiographical memories particularly from the period of life between 10 and 30 years of age in what is called a “reminiscence bump”. The thinking is that this period of adolescence and early adulthood is one of many vivid, emotional and important milestones, perhaps encoding these memories more strongly than others in our lives. Additionally, hormonal and other neurobiological changes may play a role. A number of studies have found links between autobiographical memories and life-long preferences for music from this period of life.
While more research is needed, one promising use of the reminiscence bump and its relationship to music is for our elders with dementia. The personal meaning of music may help us to retain memories when we have lost other types of function and skills. Check out the video from the “Music and Memory Project”. In the cases shown, older adults with cognitive impairment, often quite severe, are brought to life listening to the music from their youth. The key here is that the music is personalized, different from a typical picture in nursing homes of a group of older adults led in singing the same song (that they might like or might hate).
I think we can all understand this. If we are ever in a position to be placed into a nursing home, probably most of us who grew up in the 70’s and beyond would like to be spared from “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. For me, “One of These Nights” or “Suffragette City” would be just fine.
Rest in peace and thank you for the music Glenn Frey and David Bowie.