by Aidan Chivers
“…Lay away, silent corner
Side by side, we follow our minds
Walk it on, then we trip
On the line, wait we are not fine
Wait, you are not mine…”
Lights are flashing, the air is buzzing, the smoke is dancing. Lucy Rose, as charming, modest and talented as ever, reaches out to us over the speakers. We have danced, smiled and laughed all evening, but suddenly the words strike some chord buried within me and nostalgia is trying to force its way out from the corners of my eyes, along my eyelashes and onto my cheeks.
Thankfully I’m accompanied by someone with whom embarrassment is no longer possible, and, as it turns out, later that evening tears are on their way from her too. Powerful lyrics are easily tied to powerful memories, and even the simplest collection of words can have deep resonance if their associations were formed at a time of emotional vulnerability.
But it’s not just words that can touch our deepest medulla. It is a human tendency to link familiar chord patterns, melodies and voices with sensory memories, with the touch of a hand, the glint in an eye, a twitch of the lips. Sometimes musical associations are formed instantly, and never leave. Sometimes they acquire their significance retrospectively. Often a song will have memories attached to it for a couple, for a family, for a group of friends; occasionally the association is deeply personal, intimate, and private.
My friend smiles at me. ‘Music hits hard.’ But she wasn’t the first to notice. The emotional impact of powerful music has been remarked upon ever since Plato: as he put it, καταδύεται εἰς τὸ ἐντὸς τῆς ψυχῆς ὅ τε ῥυθμὸς καὶ ἁρμονία (‘rhythm and harmony find their way into the innermost part of the soul’). For him, it could be dangerous; for Aristotle, it was a good and appropriate use of leisure; for the Epicureans, it was a source of pleasure; for me, it is all of these things.
Music recalls the most distant emotions and faded memories with sometimes terrifying clarity. It brings back fragmentary, inebriated recollections. It evokes feelings of happiness, sadness, bliss. Sometimes, it can even transport us back to a perfect, distant moment, and fool us for a second into believing it never ended.