Author: Campbell, Bruce

Please Step Into the Transporter, Bones

We need our senses to navigate through our world – to survive. We have this in common with all other species. We sense our environment so that we may eat, defend ourselves, reproduce. On some level, so do sponges, trees, paramecia and dung beetles.

But some species (I can really only speak for my own) get an added fringe benefit – an evocative one. For some reasons, our reactions to certain sensory stimuli are deeply connected to memories and emotion, and these connections start being formed before we’re even verbal. There’s probably some important evolutionary reason for this (Yes, I subscribe to that particular “theory”), but I don’t care about cold scientific explanations. In most cases, sensory impressions are tied to good memories.

Scientists say that smell is the most powerful evocative connection, and we’ve all experienced that rush when you have a chance encounter with a scent that brings a flood of ancient memories. Food smells, certain perfumes, plants, smoke can all conjure up vivid memories you didn’t even know you still had. But there’s another, and we’re all familiar with it: music.

I was watching a show on PBS and it was a concert of old Doo Wop groups in some big auditorium in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. It featured old acts like the Platters, the Monotones, the Four Freshman – these were the acts my mother loved. And sure enough, when the camera panned over the audience, they were all around my mother’s age. They were all dressed very nice – this must have been a pretty expensive ticket!

But watching the faces of the audience, I was struck by something else – well, two things. One was, when they clapped along, about half clapped on the downbeat, and about half clapped on the upbeat. Oh well – some folks don’t have great rhythm. But the important, second thing that struck me was, they were all transformed, as they watched, listened and sang along. It was all over their faces.

When these folks woke up that morning, they were old, and they surely felt it. Their joints ached as they put on their fine clothes, arthritic hands struggled with the buttons and zippers, and they probably worried about staying out so late. But while they were there, and listening, they relived exactly the feelings and emotions they had when first heard these songs at dances and on the radio – and this is absolutely priceless.

Real life has a nasty habit of intruding on our existence. Inside your brain, you’re always young, but your body has a way of reminding you of the mileage on your odometer. And even before your body starts to pick on you, everyday worries can chip away at your demeanor. And let’s not even mention the barrage of bad information available on the news.

So, how wonderful and magical it is that hearing music can lift all those burdens. It’s no illusion – when music transports you, you really have no pain, and no worries. It may be temporary, but it’s no less real, and no less valuable.

For some reason, the music that touched you when you were a teenager never fails to move you. But that doesn’t mean you’re not constantly building musical memories over the years. You can use these evocative songs deliberately to raise your mood, or even more deliciously, it’ll happen when you least expect it. A song will come our of nowhere, and the next thing you know, the memories come flooding in....ahhh, you gotta love it!

Posted:  8/24/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email