Babe, I love you

by Mellissa Martinez

With the recent death of my dear friend, I have struggled to find even a moment of peace in my heart. This morning, as I carefully consider my emotions, I return to the one thing that has brought me solace in these difficult days—music. Music has graciously provided a magic bridge back to the many sleepovers, dance parties, conversations, travels, tears and laughter that I shared with my sweet Joyce.

The capability to produce and enjoy music appears in every human society. Around the globe we rely on music to move us to tears, make us feel better, inspire us, and evoke powerful memories. Evidence suggests that the rhythm and rhyme of songs provide clues, which trigger certain information from the hippocampus and frontal cortex, two areas in the brain associated with memory.

Listening to music increases blood flow in the areas of the brain that are involved in generating and controlling emotions, which activate psychological functions such as memory, attention and imagery. Rather than tapping into explicit memory (that which involves conscious recollection or recall), music opens a pathway to implicit memory—knowledge that is not consciously available. In other words, when we hear a song, we don’t deliberately process the words. Instead, we feel emotions, which unlock associated memories. 

Imagine trying to remember a summer day from high school. It would be difficult to immediately retrieve a specific memory without probing questions such as, What year was it? Who was I with? Did I travel? However, if a popular song from that time period were to play in the background, there is a good chance it would serve as a time machine back to a vivid memory of a particular day.

As for me, “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls takes me back to a crowded Bali bar in 1999, where Joyce and I locked eyes and headed to the dance floor when the song began; “Babe I Love You” by Styx transports me to Joyce’s large bed in college where we tickled each other’s arms and cried about nothing (as college girls sometimes do); “Who Let The Dogs Out” by the Baha Men carries me to Little Tokyo where we snuck beer into the Karaoke room and laughed until we cried at two-year-old (diaper-clad) Diego repeatedly rapping the song; and when I hear “This Love” I can vividly remember the dance party in Jennifer’s living room with our kids clamoring for Joyce’s attention.

According to one study in the Journal of Biology, autobiographical information associated with music is evoked not only when we hear music, but also when we speak about episodes in our lives where music played an important role.

Not only does hearing music associated with our past evoke a strong “feeling of knowing,” but it also helps to mold our own self-identity. This certainly explains why my friends and I have come together over the past few days to sing, cry, listen to music and retell stories.

I, for one, am eternally grateful to the immortalized melodies of The BeeGees, Prince, Lionel Richie, George Michael, Styx, Elton John, Paul McCartney, David Bowie and yes, even the Back Street Boyz (okay, just one song) for helping me to feel Joyce’s head on my shoulder, remember the touch of her soft skin, and imagine dancing with her as she throws her head back in the middle one of her explosive laughs.


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