A Learning Experience: What Music and Memories Can Teach You About Change

The connection between music and memories has always fascinated me. The fact that I can listen to Deep Wound and vividly remember being 16 and riding around in my friend’s beat up van blasting a bootleg copy of their entire discography is kind of nuts.

There’s a lot of interesting information out there about the connection between music and memories — the idea is that emotions enhance memory processes, music makes you feel emotions, and so therefore music could enhance memory processes.

And it’s obviously different for each person. Some people can listen to a song and be instantly uplifted, while that same song might force another person to sit on their couch sobbing with a pint of ice cream all day.

I personally have more positive memories associated with music, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about listening to an album/song that I usually love but for some reason makes me upset. How do you listen to it again without feeling bad?

Two experiences in particular stand out for me. The first was back in middle school, 2004, when it was cool to be sad and bands like Taking Back Sunday, Thursday and Motion City Soundtrack really “understood” me.

One of my friends introduced me to the Unwritten Law album Here’s to the Mourning, and I started listening to it heavily after some stupid middle school drama. It became a staple in my daily rotations for a few weeks after.

After listening to it for what seemed like months on repeat, it started to make me profoundly sad. It no longer reminded me of that specific bad memory, but rather made me think about all the things I was unhappy with in life.

Even now I can’t help but get that same feeling of sadness when listening to them, but I also feel slight joy at how hilariously terrible the album is, so I guess it all evens out.

My second major experience with this deals with one of my favorite albums to date, and that’s what made this one really hard. I got into Life is Murder by Kal Marks in 2014, right before moving to Philly with a friend of mine to pursue a music writing career (ha!).

Against better judgement, we rushed the move and ended up in a terribly run-down row house in North Philly that leaked dirty sewer water into the basement whenever we flushed the toilet. It also didn’t have heat (the lowest it got in the house was 45 degrees), I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t know anyone except for my friend, who’d gotten a job shortly after we moved there and was working a lot.

Alone and lonely in my room, I spun my Life is Murder vinyl until the grooves started to wear. Through everything I was feeling, it kept me grounded.

Needless to say I was surprised when I went back and listened to the album a few months later that certain songs made me upset. They brought me back to those lonely mornings in my half-finished room where I felt hopeless. But this was a huge problem because it’s one of my favorite albums.

I want to say that I fixed this by starting to listen to the album when I was in a good mood and when I was doing things that were relaxing or fun. That I found the particular songs that made me feel a certain way and explored why they made me feel like that. That I found that even certain notes could trigger an emotion, and from this, I discovered which memories were associated with certain songs and thought long and hard about why that was.

Maybe that would work, but none of that happened. Instead, I stewed in the bad feelings until eventually the songs just didn’t make me feel that way anymore. (My situation got much better and I was in a more positive mindset, which absolutely helped).

Though listening back to both albums now can still evoke these unwanted feelings, it seems more likely that this is just a constant thing happening to heavy music listeners everywhere. Even writing this, I can think of three or four other albums that had the same effect on me. And if it’s happened to me, there’s no doubt it’s happened to others, and it will probably happen again.

As we get older and more knowledgeable about life, we constantly learn and experience new things. So maybe these emotions are just a good reminder of how much we’ve changed and how much we will change. Or maybe our brains are just constantly fucking with us, who knows?

Ambitious content creator. Part-time music maker.