Musical Memoir doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a musician to write your road epic. Write your memoir to the tunes of the past…and your musical memories will come in torrents to flood your pages. Research shows that popular tunes from the past brings moments of happiness and temporarily restored memories to Alzheimer’s patients with headsets and a personal playlist. It works for us, too. Could that be why Classic Rock and Classic Country radio exists? Songs are imbued with memories of events and people. Listening to our favorite station during drive time, we occupy one part of the mind with the present moment, but in the background plays the “soundtrack of our lives.” Rightly preoccupied with driving, we enjoy the music while memories play in the background of our subconscious. In a public place, surrounded by people, a piped-in song may freeze our awareness in place and replaces it with a memory so strong we cannot move, overcome by emotion. Harness this tool to add to your memoir.
Summoning musical memories, I searched for material for writing my own memoir. Steeped in stillness, I answered the question, “What songs do I remember, and what happened then?” Stifle the brain’s analytical skills and recall. Musical memories rise in wavering clouds that drift through my fingers to the page in poignant, reflective wisps…
The Music of 1973
The banging intro of Roll Over Beethoven sent college Best-Female-Friend Renee and I into a heightened frenzy. Already twisting and leaping on the large wooden dance floor of the Warehouse, I swung my long hair like the possessed child in The Exorcist, gave in to imbibed inspiration and pulled Renee onto the floor. She stretched out beside me. Whenever George Harrison’s words “Roll over, Beethoven, dig that rhythm and blues!” was shouted by the band, we began to roll in tandem, rolling across the floor, feeling only the ecstasy of raw dance trance or performance art, call it what you will, maybe just being drunk. Let the other dancers beware. It was only when I opened my eyes and looked up from highly polished shoes into the face of a uniformed policeman that I rolled away and resumed dancing on my feet. In Renee, whom I had met in my dorm elevator at the University of Georgia just up the hill, I had found “a crazy partner, who loves to reel and rock!” on the Freedom Road.
The Music of 2004
I couldn’t stop moving to the sound of the music. Isn’t that why we were there? The Americana Music Conference was in full swing and I was there to write about it for FolkWax. The BB King’s club in Nashville was jammed to the gills with music people. Tony Joe White was playing “Polk Salad Annie” on stage. My table held eight handsome, interesting, musical men, partnership status unknown, but not one of them wanted to dance! I searched the room. One male head was nodding like mine, and I headed for it. Soon we were on the dance floor, cutting the rug. This cat, who had grimly nodded at me for the last four days, danced with a crazy, honest grin!
Writing Musical Memoir
Each of these musical memories could be expanded to a life story in my memoir. My relationship with Renee continued until her one-shot-death in her early twenties; the man I invited to dance became the love of my life and husband, while Tony Joe White’s live music is now a remembered echo.
Writing memoir brings revelation. I discovered that music is heavily entwined with dance in my memory. I will earmark a few more mornings for the pleasures of musical memory.
To entice your own musical memories while writing your memoir, try this: Use quiet time and ask yourself, “What songs do I remember, and what happened then?” You will have a story starter in no time. Let the music play, but only in your mind while you draft.
Reinforce the memory by playing the recording, or watching a video of the band, but do this after you have the memory captured, because your memory will change and maybe even stop your recollection. You will discover anew the vagaries of memory—for example, I was certain that Roll Over Beethoven’s opening riff and song was Paul McCartney’s piano. Not so—it was a guitar riff first played by the song’s writer Chuck Berry, and the song went to #2 on Billboard when I was one year old. The Beatles loved the song and recorded it in England in 1963, with George Harrison playing lead and double-tracking the vocals. I was relieved to hear the piano in my memory being played on a live superstar jam version on YouTube!
I’m going to write a little letter and mail to my local dj…Roll over, Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today! —Chuck Berry