RSS Feed

Soundtracks

 

I went to a conference on Dementia recently, for social work school, and one of the exercises they did was to have everyone try to come up with their own list of songs. The theory of the Music and Memory project is that hearing the music she loves will wake a patient up from her dementia, at least for a moment, and allow her to feel like herself again.

I tried to make my list, but it was much more difficult than I’d expected. How can I know ahead of time which songs I’ll still want to hear? Music has such power over me: it can agitate me, and exacerbate the darkness; it can remind me of great joy, but also of alienation.

I started to think, though, how helpful it would be, when first meeting a new person, to get to listen to their playlist. If their playlist is monotonously the same, or chaotic, with no rhyme or reason going from song to song, or just out of sync with me, then that would be helpful to know ahead of time.

I wonder if Cricket and Butterfly have music in their heads all day, the way I do. Do they wake up to a persistent melody running on a loop? Or for them is it a smellody? A complex mix of dirt and bird poop and air freshener, wafting through their minds all day long.

029

searching for smellodies.

I thought I heard some of Cricket’s internal music the other night, during one of our evening walks. It sounded like “Pee in the wind,” a variation on “Dust in the wind,” but full of the high lonesome sound of a pee message blowing away before she could fully sniff its contents.

pix-from-eos-061

“Where’d the pee go?”

pix-from-eos-087

“Where?!!!!!!!!”

I’m pretty sure the music playing in Butterfly’s head, when it’s time for her morning treat, is “The chicken dance,” that frantic, ever faster, song that we had to flap our elbows to in elementary school. But the rest of the time, I can see Butterfly as a jazz baby, swinging her pearls, and dancing at a speakeasy. It’s not that I think she’d be a profligate drinker, it’s that she’s got such swing! She moves like she’s hearing the Benny Goodman big band in her head; not the complicated Jazz that you listen to for the esoteric-ness of it, but easy, breezy, swing band jazz that makes you snap your fingers and dance.

008

“I can hear the music!”

001

Butterfly even dances in her sleep!

Cricket makes me think of Beethoven; that’s the level of drama she lives by. And Barbra Streisand. If Cricket were human she’d sound like Barbra Streisand, with that dramatic range, nasal twang, and constant crescendos and decrescendos, like an Escher staircase going up and down simultaneously.

img_0510

Cricket, um, singing.

But I struggle when I try to imagine the soundtrack for my own life. I’d want lots of Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Some Beatles, and a little Elvis. Martina McBride and Fiona Apple. Aretha Franklin and Etta James and Otis Reading and Barbra Streisand. James Taylor, of course. Salt N’ Pepa could be helpful too. And Yo Yo Ma’s Appalachian Waltz CD, with Allison Krauss on vocals.

I’m not sure how all of that would end up on one soundtrack, but I guess it could. There’s a female cantor in NYC who has a beautiful voice, and I’d love to have her version of Kol Nidre when the time comes. And there are a bunch of songs from sleep away camp that I would love to hear again, preferably in the off key, off rhythm versions in which I first heard them.

One of my favorite ways to choose music used to be to buy movie and TV show soundtracks, because the songs were always chosen for maximum impact, and made every emotion crystal clear. The Star Wars soundtracks were such a relief in that way, spelling everything out for me. Wouldn’t it be helpful if the Darth Vader theme played in the background when you met that seemingly nice guy at a party? Or the Jaws theme, before a particularly unfortunate job interview? Even if I didn’t take the hint beforehand, it would be so validating, in the disastrous aftermath, to at least know that the musicians saw things the same way I did.

I’m a little bit worried that Cricket has been hearing the Darth Vader theme in her head for most of her life: when the mail man comes by, or leaves fly past her head, or dogs bark. Maybe I should play It’s a Wonderful World on a loop, while she’s sleeping, to see if that could change things for her.

015

“Darth Vader is coming again?!”

 

Advertisements

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

110 responses »

  1. I would have a tough time making a soundtrack to my life, there are too many choices. Stanley and Lulu don’t seem to be effected by music, on the other hand, if the alarm on my husband’s iphone goes off, Jack goes off on long howl, too funny.

    Reply
  2. My dearest friend from college has early onset Alzheimers and began her decline at age 55. She played the piano for quite a while after she could no longer learn new songs. She still loves to dance with her husband. Music really persists, I believe. I think I would like an endless loop of Gilbert and Sullivan tunes interspersed with Dylan and Joan Baez.

    Reply
  3. Have you read Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia? It is wonderful to see how music help people with Alzheimer’s or dementia respond. I love that last photo of Cricket. You made me wonder about what the soundtrack of my life would be- such an interesting thought!

    Reply
  4. Too cute and funny. Speaking if soundtracks last night I eat he’d The Big Chill, every so ng from the 60s in that it was good… I guess. xx

    Reply
  5. Spell check strikes again.

    Reply
  6. It’s amazing how music can re-awaken memories.

    Reply
  7. Your life soundtrack of musicians is amazing!

    Reply
  8. The photo of Cricket (Where?!!!!!) had me laughing so hard. ‘The Time of my Life’ from ‘Dirty Dancing” would be #1 with a bullet for me along with ‘Footloose.’ And I cannot dance worth a flip (except alone in my kitchen!). What does that say about me?? Que: Jaws…… 😀

    Reply
  9. Recently the NYT had an article on music therapists who believe in compiling a playlist ahead of time to be played when you are dying. I thought this is a great idea.To leave this plane of existence to songs that make you happy..

    Reply
  10. After reading this I took a good look at my music library on my phone. To say it’s eclectic is putting it mildly. I have everything from Andrea Bocelli to the Ramones. I’ve already told my family that one of the songs I want at my funeral is (ONLY) the Louis Armstrong version of “What a Wonderful World.” The Big Chill was the music of my youth so I LOVE that soundtrack! And who doesn’t pretend they can dance when “Footloose” comes on?

    Reply
  11. I like your playlist!!

    Reply
  12. Easy – Anything Sinatra and ‘As Times Goes by” from Casablanca. I think Cricket and Butterfly would have their own music that they would gladly dance to.

    Reply
  13. Love that theory that music is remembered even in a mind affected by memory loss.

    Reply
    • At the conference, they showed some pieces of the documentary Alive Inside, about the music and memory project. It was amazing to see the way people just came to life with the different kinds of music that really meant something to them.

      Reply
      • I’m going to look that documentary up. Thank you. That is sooooo amazing. I’m going to make lists for my family. My boy LOVES music. It’s such a part of who he is. I’m going to write down the songs of his childhood. So glad you wrote this! 😊😊

  14. I love the idea of getting to know people through their playlists. I’ve found it can be pretty personal. Funny how humans sometime judge each other for the songs that make our hearts … well, sing? I’d love us to be curious and open to what that song means to a person. I’ll keep fanning that hope, thanks to the case made in your blog! 😉

    Reply
  15. What a challenging task. I think Louie Armstrong might appear on everyone’s list. I was privileged to see him perform live once.

    Reply
  16. I used to love compiling tracks on cassette in my teens, played them endlessly in the car. But then CDs came around, though luckily I had a friend who put together several for me, and I still have them. I like Meatloaf’s ‘I want my Money Back’, The Rolling Stones ‘You can’t always get what you want’, and Amy Winehouse ‘Back to Black, so they would be included somewhere, as well as Jon Seconda’s ‘Angel’ and Pharrell Williams ‘Happy’.
    Great photos of Cricket and Butterfly Rachel. hugs and treats by proxy.

    Reply
  17. Wow what a brilliant selection of songs/singers you chose there. Love your list. May I just say, and this is meant as a compliment, that you seem wiser than your years. I really admire that. This post of yours made me think about my music choices, but this morning I couldn’t come up with a list quite yet. I will though. Thanks for sharing x

    Reply
  18. What about “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”?

    Reply
  19. Loved the Darth Vader theme and I will probably always think of that now every time my Yorkie races to the window barking at every movement. Wonderful post and selection of music for the life soundtracks for you, Cricket and Butterfly.

    Reply
  20. I LOVE the idea of a “Smellody”! I’m sure that’s what dogs have!

    Reply
  21. This is brilliant and lovely, thank you! And I laughed and laughed.

    Reply
  22. Glad to know I am not the only one with music playing in my head. Usually it is Donnie McClurkin but once in a while I just hear instrumental music 🎶. Hmmm … maybe I can switch to Darth Vader. 😃

    Reply
  23. Here’s my short list of music. Take Five by Dave Brubeck, Mozart Piano Concert no 21, 2nd movement (Elvira Madigan theme), A Hymn to New England (John Williams)

    Reply
  24. Thanks for clarifying the concept of ‘smellody’, Rachel. It all falls in place now, as to Dylan.

    Reply
  25. This is wonderful. I want to comment on everything (in a validating type of way) but since that would be way too long for a comment, I’ll just say we love the same music if you add in Josh Groban.

    Reply
  26. I saw a documentary on dementia and music about a year ago. Maybe it’s the same project you refer to. They gave iPods and headphones to dementia patients and they “woke up” with incredible clarity. Maybe that’s the same project you refer to. It was amazing and so close to home for me as At the time was caring for my aunt who had dementia.

    I regards to your life’s playlist… like you music is a huge part of my life. From time to time I make a mental top 10 list of all time favorite songs. I find it is constantly changing and varies depending on my mood’ where I am in my life’ and how much wine I,vet had. 😉

    Thanks for another thought provoking post!

    Reply
  27. thanks for a gorgeous post in every way, Rachel 🙂

    Reply
  28. I hardly know you but your playlist is exactly what I would have imagined for you. Maybe because you have such a wonderful way of revealing who you are in what you write about on your blog.

    Reply
  29. Honest Abe Lincoln

    Imagine…a dog’s sense of smell is 600 times greater than our sense of smell. I have no way to imagine how a fart must smell to a dog just walking into a room. I do know that dogs seem to have a knack for “going for the crotch” when new people come into the room. There must be some connection there that I am missing out on. I would not smell the seat of a chair where a man or a woman had been setting but a dog does it without a thought. I wonder what it does to their brains?

    Reply
  30. Love the expression…”smellodies.” With dogs, that’s a pawfect description. There’s so much info in each sniff, it’s no wonder they go ga-ga.

    Reply
  31. Very interesting. I am gonna look into that . . . . and I can see a post coming.

    I love your connections of music. So funny. It would be cool if tunes played as warnings although for some of us they KINDA do . . . if you would think along the lines of commercial jingles . . . ones for upset stomachs. Those that get that “gut” feeling when they meet someone or are in a “situation”. The Pepto Bismol or Alka-Seltzer song could play. 🙂

    I am going to be making theme songs for everything in my head for a while now!

    Reply
  32. Ah you are too precious! Heheh very cute pictures. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
    Bailey

    Reply
  33. It would be helpful if life was narrated by theme songs played in the background =) or at least in my head!

    Reply
  34. Terrific post. My Bailey seems to prefer instrumental over vocals. Perhaps he likes to make up his own words. I have a bad habit of playing the same playlist over and over and that probably irritates him since he’s a free spirit.

    Reply
  35. Ha – I love Cricket’s playlist and yours would mirror my own.. just love that variety.. Barbara Streisand takes me back to my teens and well… Nat King Cole reminds me of my dad. Thanks for inspiring some lovely musical memories. As for your Butterfly and Cricket.. they are as cute in their pictures as their names conjour up in the imagination… Fab! x

    Reply
  36. Pingback: Your Playlist Spark « Terre Pruitt's Blog

  37. Such fun to read with all the soundtracks running through my mind!
    Looks like spellcheck messed you up on Otis Redding — and I’m wondering if it’s going to do the same to me when I hit “post comment”!

    Reply
  38. “Come to me softly,” may be the song they hear. Or perhaps it is “You know I can’t hear you when a smell is diverting me.”

    Reply
  39. I love movie soundtracks; the more dramatic, the better. Therefore, lots of Hans Zimmer. The movie Gladiator is over the top, but I’ve heard the music used in a yoga class. My dogs: they probably have “you’re such a goooood girl!” on loop instead of music.

    Reply
  40. I will never be able to hear Dust in the Wind again without seeing that photo of Cricket. And the next time I’m at a wedding and they play the Chicken Dance? Butterfly. Thanks girls for making me laugh. So when I’m old and someone plays these songs for me as part of music therapy? I’ll be sitting in my rocker giggling.

    Reply
  41. Great piece! Plus such a relief to know that other people go through a day listening to music in their heads the way I do. Pretty once looked at me like she thought I had taken leave of my senses when I asked her if she heard music in her head during the day. Of course, that’s not the only time Pretty has looked at me that way.
    Your playlist was fascinating – I could go with you on some – but then I’d have to throw in a few gospel songs that I’ve sung since childhood – and I’m afraid they wouldn’t remind you at all of the cantors at synagogue. 🙂
    Congratulations on sticking with your social work classes…I admire you for it.

    Reply
  42. Omg Rachel, I love this post. Funny, cute, and yes now I have some of those songs playing in my own head.

    Reply
  43. Uncle NuNu definitely has ‘elevator music’ playing in his head! Pip

    Reply
  44. Pingback: Jubilee Singers And Their Biggest Fan – Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Family Saga Fiction at Middlemay Farm

  45. Your playlist was fascinating – I could go with you on some – but then I’d have to throw in a few gospel songs that I’ve sung since childhood – and I’m afraid they wouldn’t remind you at all of the cantors at synagogue. I love movie soundtracks; the more dramatic, the better.

    Reply
    • My cantor likes to add in music from all around the world, and one of my favorite guest singers was clearly gospel-trained. There’s something joyous about music that just can’t be denied.

      Reply
  46. Thank you! Pretty once looked at me like she thought I had taken leave of my senses when I asked her if she heard music in her head during the day.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: