On music and nostalgia

A strange phenomenon happened to me recently

On two separate occasions, I started to listen again to singer-songwriters I used to listen to more than 10 years ago, but have not really since — Damien Rice and Corinne Bailey Rae.

Both times, I listened to familiar tunes from back then — tracks from the albums O (2002) and Corinne Bailey Rae (2006). (How awesome is Spotify by the way?)

And in both cases, I was magically transported back in time to my adolescent years. Not that I was somehow having vivid visions of past events, but rather that I felt familiar emotions from that period of my life. At times these emotions hit me really strongly, almost as if I had imbibed a potent potion.

There was a real sense of nostalgia about these songs.

I have heard it said that one often clings to the music they’ve listened to and grown to love in their adolescent years, because those are the years when one is going through the most emotionally significant moments in one’s life (what with hormones racing etc.). Music in those moments helps one to channel (or express) their emotions, and those songs end up leaving an indelible impression on the individual.

Isn’t it just uncanny how music is able to do that? It helps you to feel what the songwriter has put into the song, which I suppose is the straightforward bit; but it also helps you to channel your feelings into the song itself, such that together with your emotions these songs become part of your person.

And I guess that’s what happened to me these past two weeks. Those songs from the past reacquainted me with emotions from before, almost from a past life: past emotions which I had forgotten about, or perhaps even suppressed.

But more than that, those songs also helped me to channel the emotions that had been bottled up within me. Those songs from the past granted me the vocabulary to express the suppressed (negative) emotions of the present, which was a somewhat cathartic experience.

As someone who is rather emotionally unintelligent, I find myself utterly fascinated by the power (and danger) of music in this regard.


A brief coda to this blog post: these past two weeks have also served to cement my view that the state of music has sorely declined in the last 10 years. I think this is true generally of all “pop” music, but Damien Rice and Corrine Bailey Rae are good cases-in-point. Their later albums have some good stuff (“The Greatest Bastard”, I’m looking at you) but nothing quite like the brilliance of and Corrine Bailey Rae. (But yeah please feel free to write this last paragraph off as the rant of a grumpy old man against the younger generation…)