Think of a song you heard all the time earlier in your life. Perhaps it was a song your parents played during the holidays, the sound of the stereo mingling with the smells from the kitchen in the warm air.
Maybe it's a lullaby your mother sang to you when you were young, and your mind still wanders there when you're falling asleep.
Maybe it's a song you listened to with your high school crush, daring for the first time to touch her hand. You put it onto that mix CD you made to play in the car on the night of the dance.
I don't mean to be sloppy and sentimental, but I quite literally can't help it. This is what music and movies do to us. It takes us back, to memories, emotions and regrets we thought we had left behind. It silences the present, replacing it with some other experience.
Full disclosure: I'm a musician. In addition to the philosophy and economics degrees I pursue during the day, I moonlight with my band Cereus Bright, traveling around the Southeast to fill rooms with music.
Oh yeah, and I write super political rant-columns every week, which I'm taking a break from to write on a more relatable topic — music.
We all have music in our lives. We have all had a song pop up on shuffle or Pandora, and been brought back to our childhood or some relationship or even a specific place. We have all been in the midst of terrible days that ultimately ended with the screaming of some pop song into the back of our windshields. We all have songs that break our hearts each time we hear them, which is often.
For me, that song is "So Sorry" by Canadian songstress Feist – whom you may recognize for her song "1234" from the iPod commercial.
It's a slow little song, just guitar and vocal, but the lyrics are devastating—"I'm sorry, two little words I always say ... after you're gone, and I realize, I've been acting all wrong." I listen to it about once a month, and spend the rest of the day in a cloud.
I first heard "So Sorry" when a girl I knew asked me to help her play it at a party where she was dressing up as Feist. I played guitar, sang and fell in love with her all within those three sweet minutes.
We started dating a few months later; I ended up being jealous and immature. I lost her. There I was, saying those little words after she was gone.
Now, every time I hear that song, this whole big feeling comes back up. Not just her face, and not just the dress she was wearing when we first played it, but the whole story, months long, all resurfaces in that little song. I'm no longer in my car or between a pair of headphones, but in that story.
I'm glad that music is so tied to our memory. If not, I'm not sure we'd have any way to remember what it's like to be a heartbroken kid, or a teenager just angry at the world. Our iPods are like an index to our personal stories.
"Want to go back to eighth grade? Here's Damien Rice!"
It's not how we always think of music, and perhaps we should leave ourselves room to just enjoy the music we hear, but it's also amazing that music can simply summon up our past hopes and fears and loves. It's something that only music and other stories can do.
If you have some time, revisit the old you. Maybe she's stuck inside those old playlists, or in a TV show you watched after school, or even in old pictures. This isn't just nostalgia, it's perspective. It lets us remember not just how we got where we are, but also why we wanted to be there in the first place.
Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy and economics. He can be reached at email@example.com.