by Giselle Renarde
Songs from your childhood make you feel young again.
I forget where I heard that. Probably on TV. But it makes me think of documentary I watched about music therapy. They interviewed a guy whose job was to visit long-term care facilities and lead singalongs with the residents, many of whom had dementia. This singalong guy figured he'd learn a bunch of songs from across the decades, but he found that when he played popular music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, the residents weren't interested, or they didn't remember the tunes.
It was only when he started singing songs from the 30s and 40s, when the elderly residents were young, that everyone joined in. From then on, it was all WWII era music all the time. Even residents whose dementia was very advanced remembered the old songs word for word.
I'm not exactly elderly, but lately I find I'm drawn back to the music of my youth. I didn't have the easiest childhood (in fact, I lived through a lot of what they're now calling Adverse Childhood Experiences), but I was lucky enough to find an escape hatch in the family record player.
When I was a preteen, I fell in love with Broadway musicals. Don't ask me how I got my introduction to musical theatre. My father was obsessed with Elvis. My mother never listened to music at all. My dad's record collection was vast, but it didn't include any Broadway. I used to go to the library and flip through the record stacks and check out every soundtrack I could get my hands on. I'd bring my records home and copy them onto cassette tapes so I could listen to them in my bedroom. I had a tape player of my own, but not my own turntable. Vinyl was on its way out. (Now it's on its way back in--funny, that.)
I think one of the things I most loved about musicals was that they were stories I could get lost inside. I would play my tapes over and over and over again. It's a wonder they didn't snap. I would listen until I'd memorized every lyric to every song. I could have sung the entire Phantom of the Opera soundtrack to anyone who was interested. (No one was.) And I recall a weirdly obsessive crush I had on some girl at my school because she looked (in my mind) like the actress who played Jenny in Aspects of Love.
After finding a bunch of my old tapes in my mother's basement a few months ago, I discovered something pretty amazing: all these years later, I still remember the lyrics to all those soundtracks. I haven't heard them in ages. Doesn't matter. The music's locked in my brain and the words are there with them.
I've read that as Carl Jung got older, he would go down to the river and carve tiny rivulets into the earth, leading the water off in different directions. This was a favourite childhood activity of his, and he came back to it in old age.
More and more, I feel like life swings on a slow pendulum. I'm going back to the place I came from, and maybe I'll get there one day. There's a word I learned in university, a word I no longer remember--it means nostalgia for a past you never actually experienced. I've got a case of that, big time. My childhood was full of trauma, and yet there's something about it I want back. I'm not sure what. Maybe just the music.
Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. Nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, her fiction has appeared in well over 100 short story anthologies, including prestigious collections like Best Lesbian Romance, Best Women’s Erotica, and the Lambda Award-winning collection Take Me There, edited by Tristan Taormino. Giselle's juicy novels include Anonymous, Cherry, Seven Kisses, In Shadow, and The Other Side of Ruth.