Take Me Back

27 Dec

Remember a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I would eventually write a little something about Audio Time Travel? No, you probably don’t. But I did, and, well, here it is.

No, I’m not talking science fiction from a bad ’80s movie. I don’t even mean physical time travel. When I say Audio Time Travel, I’m referring to the mind’s response to an auditory stimulus. This stimulus could be a noise or music, natural or manmade. The mind’s response could be to trigger a physical reaction such as flinching and fleeing at the sound of a gun shot, or it could correlate the stimulus to a specific memory and transport that person, mentally, back to the moment it happened. The latter response, the ability for a sound to make it’s listener travel back in time, mentally of course, is what I’ll be talking about today.

We all know that our sense of smell is hugely powerful in stirring up memories. But what about our ears? Our ears have the ability to transport us to another time, without leaving the room. (If you don’t think this is an amazing feat, you should stop reading this post right now.) Case in point, my last post was a result of Audio Time Travel: I was listening to Tim McGraw sing Live Like You Were Dying, and it reminded me of a conversation that I had with a good friend of mine. I remembered feeling his sadness from my response to his question about what I would do with my last day on Earth. I remember that whole month surrounding the conversation as well, which made me recall the details surrounding my father’s death. This reminded me of the last song I listened to with my father and in turn, having realized I’d just gone back in time in my mind because of a song, dug up my memory of a conversation I had with that same friend about Audio Time Travel. At this point, it’s become a little convoluted, but the point is that this whole chain of events was triggered by my brain’s response to a single auditory stimulus: a song by Tim McGraw.

Have you ever found yourself in the car with a friend and a song comes on the radio that made you turn to your friend and say, “hey, remember that time…” or, “this song reminds me of that one time…” If you have, you know what I’m talking about. Now, maybe it didn’t happen in the car, but it happened somewhere, and music was involved. This example is kind of weak. Only reminding you of something that happened in your past is just a fraction of what your mind can do. It can really take you back and make you feel the emotion, and everything else as it was in that one memory. It can make you feel the chill in the air, the way something felt on your tongue or smell the fragrance in the air. For example, when I hear When the Levees Break by Led Zepplin, I’m sitting right next to my father’s bed. I see my little sister on the other side and my little brother at his feet. My dad had been bugging me for weeks to play that song for him every time we got in the car. I kept telling him that I didn’t have the song on my iPod. It was at this moment, at my father’s death-bed, that it occurred to me that I could find the song on YouTube. I remember feeling so stupid for never having thought of it before this moment. So I played it for him. I can feel his hand in mine, and the coarseness of his hair as I stroked it. I’m thinking the same thoughts in my head, wishing that I could hear him sing it, that he would open his eyes and I could ask him why was this song so important? Did this song hold the key to unlocking a memory for him? I can hear the sound of his labored breaths and the increasingly longer pauses between them, in the background, the oxygen machine. Shortly after the song had finished, he took his last breath. That was it. The song ended and so did his life, just like that. When the Levees Break will forever be my ticket back to that moment.

I believe that most people are aware this occurs in their own minds from time to time, but I don’t believe that most understand just how deeply their lives are affected by the noise around them, music in particular. There’s a reason that so many scientific studies are conducted on this subject, from fetal development to what kind of music facilitates learning. If you attend a symphony or an opera, you will notice the audience is mostly silent and very calm. In some instances, the audience might be so calm that some may be asleep. On the other end of the spectrum, go to a punk rock show, and you’ll more than likely find yourself swept up in the middle of a mosh pit, being pushed around by the frenzied audience. Time travel isn’t the only thing music can induce. It can completely alter your state of mind. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re stuck in gridlocked traffic, about to go postal, try listening to something a little more calming and soothing than The Offspring’s  Bad Habit.

I’d like to point out that I am no scientist. I’ve done no actual research into this topic. I’m just a quasi-college-educated girl. All I have are my experiences and my memories. While, it feels as though it’s been an eternity since I’ve seen my father, I know that he’s just one song away.

This post is dedicated to my father, an amazing man who overcame an abusive childhood and became a loving, caring, creative and hardworking father. This is also dedicated to his little brother, my uncle Peter, who passed away about a week ago. He wasn’t as fortunate in overcoming his past, but is still deeply loved and sorely missed.



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