Music as Memory Markers (Identity Guide Posts)

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Many who study human development know that as humans, we all struggle at some time or another with the identity question, “Who am I?” and how we answer that depends on a few factors.  (1) Our family background and how we fit into it relationally, (2) our nature, or natural giftings, (3) the stories, wisdom, and even quips people say that we latch onto, and many others.  One component I would would like to focus on, however, I didn’t even mention, and that is Music How does Music help us orient our identity in the world?

We all have those songs or sounds that bring up old memories.  An easy example is remembering when you started dating.  You heard in movie that couples tend to have favorite songs, so you decided on a song that would mark the relationship.  You listened to it over and over because it was the first song on the mix tape in your car.  It filled the sonic spaces of your life.  And then you broke up.  Suddenly all you listen to is “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” (jk).

What was your song?  If you never dated, think of another powerful time in your life – like your first finals at college.  What songs were playing when you crammed? Or your first road trip?  What songs played in the car as you traveled 1,000 miles.

Now – 5 years later or more, you hear the song on the radio and a flood of memories and emotions come back.  Your face is flush from remembering good and bad times.  Kisses, questions, hugs, laughs, the smell your old car, everything.  It all comes back, but why does it?

It seems that music, being a powerful artform, which can fill spaces and affect our emotions – also acts as a place holder for memories.  Memory means stories, and stories mean identity construction and processing, and so music is intimately intertwined with who we are as people.

What was going on in your life 10 years ago/5 years ago?  Don’t remember, what about when you listened to these songs:

Watch this video if you are at least 25 years old:

Watch this video if you are less than 25 years old:

If you don’t relate to either, watch this:

Regardless of the song that you related to – what were the exact moments going on in your life when you first heard these songs?  Is it easier now that you have listened to some of the music from back in the day?  I bet for most of you it was.

Music is a powerful force in all of our lives. I’ve written a whole paper back in my college years on how music is like a Drapery, or Art that you place on the empty spaces around you.  Silence is the wall, Music is the Painting that colors our existence which we use to guide us as we navigate life.  Sometimes the messages of music help guide us, sometimes the music itself is a journey that helps us get through tough times, sometimes we just want to run over the notes and fly beyond into the ether.

Conversation – Tell me your favorite song and one powerful memory associated with it.


3 thoughts on “Music as Memory Markers (Identity Guide Posts)

  1. I have 2. Both Living on a prayer and Keep the Faith by Bon Jovi. One church I went to the pastor decided that he was going to hold a bonfire and wanted everyone to throw anything onto it that was not ‘Godly’. So me without actually thinking about what this meant went along like a lemming and got rid of anything that wasn’t Christian (There must of been atleast $600 worth of CD’s. This was before Mp3’s and iPod’s made an appearance. One of the Cd’s I got rid of was Bon Jovi’s keep the faith album… ironic or what? There wasn’t even anything heavy metal in the collection! All I was left with was some Christian Cd’s. Not something that you can share with your unsaved friends without looking like a tool.

    They couldn’t do that today since everyone downloads music unless they told everyone to burn their iPods (mind you they would explode because of the inbuilt battery). I really regret that I did this…


    1. I don’t know your background, but I was part of a Pentecostal church growing up, and I remember a similar thing at a youth group in Florida. I suppose the rationale is to purify your life from unholy influences. This stems from a Separationist or Christ vs. Culture stance, and I’ve seen it so often with new believers who sincerely want to get away from some things that they associate with evil in their lives (alcoholism, drugs, promiscuous sex, etc.).

      For those who don’t have the rough life, associations are different, and the culture around them doesn’t seem so hostile. Bon Jovi, in itself isn’t a reminder of evils to a regular person. In fact, Christ can work through a Bon Jovi song, if someone does start thinking more about ultimate things, such as faith and meaning. Who knows. This is a Christ Transforming Culture perspective on life, and its the one I tend to camp in. Christ comes into the world, takes the culture that exists among the peoples, and changes how they relate to it based on Christ as Lord, and everything else as beautiful in relation to the Master or Lord Jesus. In this perspective, nothing can be ultimately appreciated until Christ is center, and giving us the proper perspective. In a way, its a proverbial fire rather than a literal fire that destroys the items we once held close and are parts of our identities.

      Christ’s church is full of flaws, and I wonder in the future, whether those bonfires of holiness will be completely eradicated, and the culture as a whole would be completely transformed and refined. Who knows 😉 Thanks Mike.


    2. On a side note, a few bands stick out that remind of me VIDIDLY of what was happening in my Middle School Years: The Moody Blues, The Cranberries, GreenDay, Bush, Petra, DC Talk, and Jars of Clay. Wow – that’s a mix lol

      High School was Linkin Park, Spoken, P.O.D., Korn, U2, and various hardcore bands.

      College was Jimmy Eat World, Weezer, Modest Mouse, Incubus, Thrice, Squad Five-0, and too many to count.

      Now – Matisyahu, John Reuben, John Denver, Toby Mac, The Moody Blues, Johnny Cash, among others.


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