Why is music music?

How Memories Play With Who We Are

I’m a non-practicing Cultural Anthropologist. When I say “non-practicing” I mean that I don’t work as an anthropologist anymore – I haven’t for a long time. But, I still look at the world through anthropologic eyes. My job affords me plenty of observation time as I watch social interactions between people and groups of people. I work in a retail store in an affluent part of town where the medium annual household income is well over a million dollars. Everyday I experience the centuries old practice of trade in goods. Cultures haven’t changed that much since before Christ. It’s true that in urban areas markets have been replaced by strip malls, but we still practice the ritual of buying goods with objects of worth, i.e. money.

So what does this have to do with music? A lot. Ask yourself, have we really changed that much since we left the “jungle” and started to build great civilizations? True, we have a lot more luxuries at our disposal, but what makes up a society hasn’t really changed that much. We still barter, hunt, fight, cultivate, converse, make art and create music. Now we just do it on a much bigger scale but the essence of what makes up a civilization hasn’t changed.

Music has always played an important part of a society. Early civilizations used music as a means to bring peoples together, to unify, celebrate and to ritualize cultures. We are still doing this today. Music definitely is a way that defines individuals while at the same time unifies those individuals under a similar umbrella, think Punk music of the 70’s and 80’s. Or the age of Aquarius in the 60’s. During the second world war there was plenty of music rallying the troops and our country to victory. During the 18th century Mozart rebelled against the crown to create music he thought would be more appealing to his fans and groupies. Throughout history there are defining moments that were clarified by music. What is it about music that touches us in a way that makes us human? Think about this. How many times has a particular song being played on the radio taken you back to a particular place and time? I’m going to mention three songs below. Three songs that I am sure will create some sort of feeling in you, that can can take you back to this specific place and time in your past. Here we go…

Boston – Don’t Look Back

-M- – Pop Muzik

Michael Jackson – Thriller

The thing that really fries my noodle when I think about this is the fact that there are millions of people with millions of different memories that are attached to these three songs. People may not remember -M- but as soon as you hear the organ and then the synthesizer you know the song and back you go with what ever memories you have. What’s even crazier is how these memories are created and locked in our brain.

Our body is created from cells and each of these cells will eventually die and be replaced with new ones. For example, the cells that make up your skin last roughly a little over a week. Therefore, the next time it’s been over a month since you’ve seen your friend, they actually are a completely “new” person because all their skin cells will have been replaced with new ones. The oldest cells in your body are found in your gut. The cells that make up your pancreas for example, remain for over 15 years. However, the craziest thing is the cells in your cerebral cortex, the part of your brain that holds long term memory, aren’t replaced for 23 years. And when they are, your memories are replaced with a copy of the same memory. In other words, let’s say you haven’t heard a song in well over 25 years and all of a sudden you hear that song and it takes you back to high school on a warm spring day just before spring break. You’re having lunch with your friends and you hear that song for the first time on the radio that’s playing on the table. That particular memory that’s been sitting locked in your cerebral cortex all these years and has now been unlocked for the first time in 25 years is not the actual memory but a copy of that memory that was passed on from the now dead cells that originally experienced the memory. So the actual memories we have of the past are not really the actual memories but are copies of those memories. And the physical person you are today, is not the same person you were 25 years ago. Even you memories, the things that help define who you are, are not the same.

Music is an interesting piece of culture. There are thousands of books discussing every aspect of music, from how it influences us physiologically to how payolas controlled the industry to the intrinsic value of classical music on modern day society. Music will forever be a way I can interpret society and my relationship within it. I appreciate good music and the time I have given to hear it, whether it be live, on a turntable or through my iPod Classic. I simply love music!

Now pass the joint and lets get stoned.

 

 

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