Psychologists call it music nostaglia, I call it groovy. However as a psychologist, I am tempted to delve deeper into the phenomena that I experienced last night while dancing to 1960’s psychedelic rock and roll and knowing all the words and tempos, as if I was a teenager again. “How could that be?,” I asked myself this morning. The answer lies in our brain in the form of neural activity.
Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones. These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams (and embarrassments). ~ Mark Joseph Stern
Well, somehow that explanation was less than satisfying because it deconstructs my experience of hosting the Soul of the Sixties event to my neural connections. Of course that did occur, but I prefer to recall the evening as one of rhythmic joy and magic. It was as if all time and space were encapsulated in the room.
Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire. ~ George Bernard Shaw
What struck me was that I didn’t have any particular memories related to the music. The little “Suzie” of the 1960’s was no longer, happily replaced by a woman who feels secure and resilient. Nonetheless, I wondered why I couldn’t connect to specific emotions or events. It seems my experience is “neo-nostalgia” in which representations of the past gradually lose their connection to original events. (In part, this is due to the commercialization of nostaglia among aging baby boomers). Nonetheless, the 1960s existed as measurable fact, but your view of it in the present now is mediated over and over again and it becomes
a set of selective representations in which some artists, music, and events are highlighted and others eliminated. In that process of selection and simplification, nostalgia is aestheticized – it becomes a pose that can be felt intensely, but that does not connect the individual to an ‘eternal tradition’ or to a personal history, but to an image lacking insistency.~ Weinstein
Perhaps that best describes last evening’s experience for me. But no worries. Aestheticized or not, the attendees and I clearly had a great time dancing to nostalgic rock and roll music. We probably all experienced a remininscence bump, caused by memories imprinted in our formative teenage years that have become privileged and are destined to be remembered throughout our lifetime.
Did Giorgio Moroder know anything about remininscence bumps when he said:
Dance music doesn’t care where you live. It doesn’t care who your friends are. It doesn’t care how much money you make. It doesn’t care if you’re 74 or if you are 24 because… 74 is the new 24!
Happy to report that your remininscene bumps and music nostalgia may be good for your health. The buzz or head orgasm of listening to music has given some Alzheimer’s patients a brief reprieve from the haze.
Which music of your adolescence triggers memories and what are they? How do they express who you are now? Please share your experiences of music nostalgia in the comments.
The Nostalgia Machine (select the year you were age 11 and possibly discover the music in your remininscence bump)
The Psychedelicats 60s Tribute Band (highly recommended band that performed at the Princeton Club of New York 2/22/19)
Van der Hoeven, A. (2018). Songs that resonate: the uses of popular music nostalgia. In S.
Baker, C. Strong, L. Istvandity, and Z. Cantillon (eds.). The Routledge Companion to
Popular Music History and Heritage (pp. 238-246). Abingdon: Routledge.
Weinstein, D., 2014. Constructed nostalgia for rock’s golden age: ‘I Believe in Yesterday’.
Volume!, 11 (1), 20–36.
Rathbone, C. J.; Moulin, C. J. A.; & Martin, A. C. (2008) Self-centered memories: The reminiscence bump and the self. Memory and Cognition, 2008, 36 (8), 1403-1414.