Eva Bradley: Rebuilding the soundtrack of my life

By Eva Bradley

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Eva Bradley, columnist for Hawke's Bay Today.  Photo / Supplied
Eva Bradley, columnist for Hawke's Bay Today. Photo / Supplied

What is the soundtrack of your life?

We all have one, but few of us stop to consider this, and even fewer could compile it if compelled to.

Yet that is exactly what I am trying to do right now after a devastating digital disaster that has wiped my carefully curated Spotify playlist and taken with it so much more than a collection of songs.

Psychologists have long been aware of the power of music to stimulate implicit memory and launch us into the past in the way few things other than perhaps photographs can do.

As a person who struggles a lot with explicit memory - the factual "I did this that summer" kind - I rely on more emotive, subconscious-acquired cues to relive and remember my past. Music is top of the pile for this.

I only need to hear the opening riff of the Violent Femmes' Blister in the Sun to be instantly transported back to my teenage years when I sat squashed in the back of a 1990s Holden Barina borrowed from a friend's mum, singing at the top of my lungs while drinking bourbon and coke and searching for lame Saturday night parties.

It's a song that categorically reminds me what it felt like to be a teenager, and it opens a wonderful Pandora's box of memories I simply couldn't access any other way.

Blister in the Sun was just one of perhaps thousands of songs on my Spotify playlist that had the power to unlock my past. Now that the playlist is lost, I feel like a huge part of me has been too. Unless, of course, I can rebuild it.

I recently had the good fortune of exploring the Angkor Wat ruins in Cambodia and was awestruck to learn that some of the bigger temples had been deconstructed stone by stone and rebuilt to preserve them.

The reconstruction of my playlist felt like a similarly monumental task.

I started with searching for the artists and albums who've travelled with me the longest; Morrissey, The Cure, Pearl Jam, Sinead O'Connor and other angry or anti-establishment songwriters in need of Prozac who appealed to a grungy, rebellious youth juggling a frequently broken heart with teenage angst.

But as I grew up, the time dedicated to swooning about with tissues playing sad music dwindled. In my late twenties and thirties, my music choices and me became more mainstream and forgettable.

Ironically I can peg the loss of influential music in my life to the increasingly instant and cheap access to it. The easier it became to download or stream anything at all, the harder it became to connect with something.

And while it's easy to search for music from the 70s, 80s and 90s, I'm not even sure what to type in to get the Greatest Hits of the early 21st century. And sadly even if I did I doubt I would have memories triggered by any of it because I listened so generically to all of it.

Lately I've amassed a huge collection of Indie acoustic music from various playlists created by algorithms and although I love all of it, I honestly couldn't name a single artist or song title and so if any memories were associated with those songs, they are gone for good.

While this is sad, I feel like the changing nature of how we listen to music now is sadder still.

It annoys me sometimes that my car doesn't have Bluetooth and so I mostly listen to dated CDs on the in-built stacker system. And yet, there is a lot to be gained by the permanence of this.

As I rebuild my playlist with the new as well as the old, I'm trying to listen more consciously in the knowledge that what I hear now will shape what I remember later. I certainly know Wheels on the Bus has been on loop enough this past year to jog any and all memories of my current life with a young family.

Maybe not as cool as Morrissey once was but c'est la vie, right?

- Hawkes Bay Today

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