PSA: This post is inspired by Alive Inside, a documentary about the power of music in reuniting people suffering from dementia with their memories.
For the whole movie I watched people come alive as headphones were placed onto their ears and the sounds of their past came rushing in, touching the places that had not been affected by dementia. I heard big band, gospel, Louis Armstrong, and I cried along with the people whose lives had been momentarily regifted to them. I felt so moved and inspired and lucky to bear witness to what I think can be considered a miracle: memories that were gone now came back.
But the beauty of these moments is not just in remembering the past. The fact that music can help us to recover memories is certainly something, but it also serves as an indicator that music is far more essential to humanity than we may realize. Pick whatever pop bubblegum artist you hate and marvel at how what they do could be considered essential to humanity, but then think about it this way: music is so essential to humanity that we will accept it in just about any form coming from just about any person. Our hearts beat. Our voices have tones. Even people as rhythmically challenged as my dear mother still feel the urge to tap or dance along to the beat of a song.
Music is a part of every culture. It is a part of every religion. It easily accompanies any physical, artistic, academic, or emotional endeavor. I have met people who generally dislike television, movies, and all kinds of additions to life that can range from undiscovered to life-consuming depending on the person. But I have never met somebody who, on the whole, dislikes music. Just like I’ve never met somebody who dislikes food, water, or breathing.
So I watched the film, touched to see these people touched by music, fascinated to see how universal and yet how personal music can be. But I wasn’t prepared for a moment that came at the very end.
In a montage of people hearing the music that touched them- a feeling that I had thought I was feeling with them- a new song came on: Blackbird. Reliving the memory, I don’t even know that I had a visual; the instant that I heard the first two notes, my body took in an involuntary gasp and I was sobbing, wailing, before the next note came out. I had thought that I understood before, but when I heard Blackbird I truly knew how music affects us so much more deeply and viscerally than we can comprehend.
I turn my iPod to shuffle when I’m lost and I want another power to decide for me what I need to hear. Often, the right song can touch me much more strongly than parts of my own religion. Could music, in fact, be like a religion to me? The thing in life that gives me hope and peace and connection and the belief that there is something more? I think so.
I got an angel to teach me Beatles and beat, to drive me to dance and to make the car move with the songs. I wrote him the music for You Are My Sunshine; he wrote me music for We Are The World. And when my angel knew that I understood, not long after I made “and in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me” a part of body, and very shortly after we recorded our own memories of and feelings about The Beatles into an archive (at which I said that I trusted that a person’s opinions about The Beatles would tell me all I needed to know about their character), he left me on my own.
But not really. Because my heart still has a beat, my voice still has sound, my iPod still sends me his music, my tattoo reminds me that he is always right in front of me. And when I hear Blackbird he is there to block out everything else and give me a moment alone with my heart. He is my angel, and music is my religion.
“The lord came to me, made me holy. I’m a holy man. So, he gave me these sounds.”