Abba or Wham? You know who to blame!

I was recently at John Lewis, a British home & family store, when a chat with a young girl there got me thinking! She was sorting out insoles to cushion my daughter’s high instep when Frank Sinatra began singing “Hello Dolly”!  It’s a song I remember well enough from my first winter here in the UK many moons ago! It followed me everywhere. Armstrong’s voice then, with it’s rich, gravelly texture had made me want to dance – shoulder rolling, sideways shuffling and all that Jazz! The lovely girl, about 19, said she loved that song too, Michael Bublé was it?!  She loved him! He was her Christmas/Winter voice! Though she’d only recently heard it, she felt she knew it all her life. I smiled and acknowledged it with a ”Yes, Michael Bublé has a lovely voice, if a completely vile temper! 🙂 ” I left, inwardly thinking that she probably heard it first as a child, and made very happy memories to it! So did Bublé, presumably!

We’ve all probably stopped short when we’ve heard a particular artist/song play at a restaurant, doing the dishes with the radio on, whilst driving – and gone back to a particular time in our lives. Perhaps to a perfect boy you met when you were 15 and found true love –  the sort that doesn’t even re-al-ly exist, but you had managed to find it! He had the right eyes, the perfect hobbies. He played the guitar, listened to Pink Floyd; knew all the songs on Side B of The Dark Side of the Moon! You both had bemoaned the breakup of Wham!  Ah, the beauty of youth – financial disaster meant nothing more than your dad’s accountant and a bad hairday. Well, if you haven’t felt the power of musical nostalgia in one or it’s many avatars, I think I might’ve actually found Kara !

Abba disco ball bauble
By Kanchan Char

Researchers say that music has an enduring effect on us and that it is in fact potent enough to even restore brain function, improve immunity and considerably reduce stress. And that you can still sing even if you can’t talk again! Simply put, language functions are located in the left brain, but music appreciation is processed in the right. So, when one suffers damage to the left brain, your can be rewire your brain to move those functions to the other side by associating music with language.  Since all our long-term memory is stored in the right brain, this is the precise reason we associate so much of our emotional landscape with music. We’ve transcribed our memories in Quavers, Crotchets and Breves! 

Here’s what gets me – while it’s expected that we’re moved by music that saw us come of age, musical nostalgia seems to transcend that narrow period of susceptibility into a multigenerational phenomena. Not only do we react and respond to music that’s celebrated important periods in our own lives, but seemingly,  also that which lined the lives of our parents. (Of course, this adds an layer of intrigue to those who grew up in bilingual homes and where the musical apple, so to speak, fell rather far from the tree!) It stands clarified in my own life, why I  Alto to every song that Soprano’ed and the converse! I was only answering the call of Simon & Garfunkel from my subconscious! And believe you me, I did that for years!! The sins of our parents…

Apparently, we gravitate to musical genres from the Dopamine Effect, the chemical reactions we have in our brain when we feel calm, happy and soothed. The feel good neurotransmitter! It’s why we still, for most part continue to turn to music. Apart from the odd time one has to socially suffer Brahms’ Fifth Symphony at a friend’s uber-posh family dinner. Classical music is all well and good, but it does nothing other than remind me of how utterly satisfied I am with the crumbs that fell onto my own educational platter! We’ve all still remained friends, fortunately 😛 !

Some of our earliest childhood memories were probably made to music that our parents enjoyed, a lasting impression and the direction your own music choices would take, (and lest we forget, here is also a remnant of their biases and where our musical hair-raising moments have their roots!)! My generation, the late 1970’s born (the last of the ones born-free, might I add) – enjoyed the benefits of when parents didn’t think twice about introducing children to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Elvis singing about Jailhouse experiences! We didn’t focus half as much as we should have on the psychology of Freud or Piaget and Erikson has ostensibly remained just a memory of bad mobile handsets! Then again, I was partly raised in Socialist India! ‘Nuf said! (Shudders at the thought of countless Russian magazine subscriptions!)

antique classical musical notes My children’s first tryst with rythm was colic-preventing Navajo music ! Falcons and flutes and eagle-bone whistles. I didn’t stop to investigate if there were any more reliable rappers on the baby scene since Jordy! I often think of the absurdity of flipping that image and seeing the Navajo calm their teething brood to the sounds of N’Sync or 98 Degrees! Ostracism from the tribe at best, I suppose! After all, there is a fine line that separates music from mere noise, and the one to make that call is the culture that’s listening to it.

The desires, despairs and triumphs of any generation are represented in the music it created. Therefore, it occasionally leaves me feeling grim that the music we seem to be leaving our grandchildren finds itself in the myopic territory of making sure every man has a ‘Beauty and a Beat! I really do try to like Justin Bieber! J

So whether you are the “Birkenstock-wearing, celebrating the birth of Granola and Indie/Folk” type of  person or a “Can’t do without a power-ballad” one- you’ve been subtly influenced by the sounds you first heard and associated well-being with ! Finally, you now have someone to concretely blame for getting it all so horribly wrong! 😀

I’m still wading through my turbid unconscious to find what made me fall in love with Matia Bazar, an Italian experimental pop group that made it big in the late ‘70’s! Or why I feel an unsurmountable urge to face my suck-it-up-and-get-on-with-it moments with Abba’s Lay all your love on me!


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  1. says

    *those* boys (and girls): I still know a fair number of them. Almost certainly the cause of much heartache and hand-wringing in the future.

    I used to be (or at least I’m much better about it now) a complete music snob- turn my nose up at ~pop and anything I deemed as vacuous music. I’ve learnt to stop being such a judgemental cow, and own my love of really cheesy/awful tunes.

    Confession: I know every ABBA and Carpenters lyric ever written. And probably everything written by Boney M.

    Like I said, I’m not quite so smug about my taste in music anymore.

  2. Sigi says

    Wow, kanch! This really speaks to me because I always wondeted about this effect that music has on me and how a piece t of music transports me back in time and digs up all the memories / associated feelings not necessarily connnected to the music itself but to tht time and place -music nostalgia as you say. And I totally agree on the dopamine effect 🙂 I also think parents’ taste has a big influence on the kids, it did for me and my son falls asleep to Chopin or Indian classical but asks for Usher in the car lol

  3. says

    I was only just yesterday thinking about how certain songs and albums start to *be* a certain phase in your life (I was listening to Moon River). Listening to it is like travelling back in time and reliving the moments but with the power to be separate from it. Growing up, I only had access to English music that was in 4 cassettes that my dad brought back with him from Canada where he had been to study. It contained radio recordings of the Top 40 songs of 1985, Top 20 songs of all time and Michael Jackson’s Victory. So my tastes were never current, always something picked up from pubs around Bangalore, friends humming haunting tunes and references to albums in the books that captured me in much the same way your writing does.

    Dopamine. Yes. That must be it.

  4. says

    I read somewhere that the music we gravitate to in our teens stay with us for life. We may discover new artists and new kinds of music but apparently we are most passionate about the music that drove us in our teens. So this article really spoke to me. The Abba and the Wham references, hell, so true. And my mom always listened to old Hindi music, Dev Anand and Guru Dutt were her favourites so now I find myself listening to Hindi music for comfort. And clearly, my own later choice of Guns N’ Roses is what is to blame for everything that happens now in life. 🙂 Enjoyed this.

  5. Intrepid Misadventurer says

    Thanks to all of you who’ve taken the time to reply! It really is amazing when you connect with who you write for! What other roadmap can you hope for as a writer?! Most of you are fellow bloggers as well, so you know what I’m talking about! 🙂 Your comments made me smile, how shared our experiences are!! I agree wholeheartedly that as we chart our own course, we seem to be guided by the compass of the past! At least, in part!

    Hope to see you back next week…I’m working on stereotypes and cultural stalwarts! It’s my perspective about everything we’ve heard about Britain! 🙂 xx


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