Memory Playlist

By Matt Johnson


Like many people, my life and memories have been measured out in music. This list constitutes just a tiny spoonful from the lake of sounds, songs and symphonies my mind has been drenched in over the decades since I was born.

Music, along with our sense of smell, is the most powerful trigger of our memories. Yet what happens to us when we can no longer access these memories? When we no longer recognise the people we love? When we no longer even recognise ourselves?

This is a subject very close to my heart. The death of my younger brother Eugene sent my mum into a very deep depression. This depression morphed into a form of Alzheimer’s which eventually took her own life. She had simply lost the will to live and slowly became enveloped in a fog like substance as she drifted further and further from the shore, unable to recognise her other sons or husband.

This is a fairly random selection of music, as I have very eclectic taste, but a couple stand out as especially pertinent to the subject at hand. Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regret rein’ was a favourite of my mum. She was a big fan of Piaf and also happened to be in Paris the day the legendary chanteuse died. I remember during her illness this being the last piece of music my mother still responded to.

I also chose a piece by the experimental composer Tod Dockstader, not just because I’m a fan of his work but also because I was so moved by a short documentary made towards the end of his life. Dockstader was suffering from a dementia related illness himself and the film shows him listening, and responding with great animation, to his own work and yet having no idea that he was the one who had composed it.

We expect our bodies to wither and waste as age takes it’s toll upon us but there is always the very slight consolation that we will at least be allowed to look back upon our experiences on this planet and gently bask in the soft glow of memories as the sun sets upon us. But if even that is stolen from us and we are no longer even the sum of our own memories … then just who are we?

1. Tony Scott – Is Not All One (from Music For Zen Meditation)
2. Mortan Feldman – For Bunita Marcus
3. Howlin’ Wolf – Smokestack Lightnin’
4. The Beatles – Revolution No. 9
5. Donald Byrd – Cristo Redentor
6. Tod Dockstader – Luna Park
7. Edith Piaf – Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
8. Tim Buckley – Dolphins
9. The Slickers – Johnny Too Bad
10. David Bowie – Lazarus
11. Bach – Harpsichord Concerto No.5 in F Minor BWV 1056 – 2/3
12. Max Harris & his Novelty Trio – Peg O My Heart

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