Music and Memory Part II

image of a concert with stage lights in background and crowd with hands lifted in silloutette foreground.
Photo by Vishnu R Nair from Pexels

Last week, I wrote about how I’m trying to give myself new associations for childhood music that I love but that is tainted by association with my old faith. This journey has led me into lots of strange realizations about how my memory works with music. Last week, it was the inconsistency of memory and how scenes or times in my life are tied directly to music. This week, it is the secret archive of knowledge that I don’t know I have until it just appears.

For instance, if you’d asked me last month, I would’ve said I don’t know anything about the boybands of my middle school era except their names — the Backstreet Boys and NSync and was there a third less famous group maybe? I never listened to them. I remember my homeschooled Evangelical self being scandalized that my homeschool classmate had one of their posters on their wall (Idolatry? Lust? Sin!) I was so out of the pop culture loop that I famously called Scott Stapp, Scott Sapp. (In retrospect, this seems like a valid mistake.)

screen capture of progressive commercial with Lance Bass and co arriving at a residence.

But the funny thing about music, especially pop music, is that you can know it without knowing you know it. I recognized Lance Bass on a Progressive Insurance commercial last night. And when my husband sang a bit of Bye Bye Bye, I remembered the dance. But I have no memories of being exposed to it as a kid.

A popular thing that pops up sometimes on Twitter is googling the year you were born and tweeting a gif that represents the search results. Or just putting the year you were born into Twitter’s gif search field. This week, I’ve been expanding on this to explore my buried connections (and disconnections) with music that was trending when I was a particular age.

Music of the year I was born doesn’t hold any particular resonance. But junior high? High school? College? Most definitely. I’ve learned that, even though I don’t think of myself as a pop music person, I did absorb much more pop music than I thought I had. I recognize Vanessa Carlton, Mariah Carey, and Eminem even though I never owned their music or really knew who they were.

How much does this impact my understanding of adult Jaye in 2021? Maybe not much. But yesterday, I was at work (one of my summer gigs is doing wedding floral arranging) and everyone was talking about singers they had crushes on when they were teens. (All but one of my coworkers are at least ten years younger than me.) And I didn’t have anything to add because I not only had no clue about the people they were discussing, I also didn’t have a significant infatuation with a music star. (Someday, ask me about Johnathan Taylor Thomas when I was in elementary school.)

So there are social norms at work with memory and music. Group boding was happening over shared information during my work shift yesterday. And because I was 1) much older, and 2) never engaged significantly with pop music in my youth, I was on the periphery of that conversation.

Not a big deal, but something to think about as a writer, about the way humans come together in groups, with shared identities based on shared experiences. When writing, we often think about big group identity like race, age, class. But there’s a particular nuance in these small things like having formative-age crushes on pop stars.

Jaye Viner knows just enough about everything to embarrass herself at parties she never attends. Her novel, Jane of Battery Park, arrives in August