Falling down a wormhole in the kitchen: music as time-travel
Don’t you find, as you get older, that life grows less linear? As a child, a teenager, a young adult, it seemed perfectly obvious to me that life was on a trajectory. Each year, you looked down rather on the immature person you had been the previous year, and looked forward to the achievements of the next. Even in the existential crisis of leaving school/ university and wondering where life was going next, you never doubted that it was going forward. These days, I’m not so sure.
Nor is that a bad thing. From the (very) little I have gleaned of physics, the idea of time as linear (or even of time as a concept at all, but that’s way too abstract for me) is generally disregarded these days as far too simplistic. As with space-time, so with memory: life is constantly referring back on itself, looping through previous experiences, bubbling in and out of the past and present. And for me, as no doubt for you, it is music which is the conduit for these journeys of the mind.
So the other day, for example, I was getting supper ready in the kitchen and decided to put on some music to keep me company. The boys were playing in the next room; their father had retreated to an armchair where he was hiding behind the newspaper. On a whim – a need for female company, perhaps? – I put on the Indigo Girls, an album I haven’t listened to properly for years. And within a few bars of a song, I was back in a previous life. I was single, a young post-grad student at Oxford. Everything was possible in life, nothing was defined. The choices before me were exhilarating and terrifying. Adulthood was new to me: amongst some of the brightest young people of my generation, I was exploring what it meant, working out my gender politics, my sexual mores, my political and social values. Thanks to my Canadian flatmate and American friends, the soundtrack of my life was KD Lang, Sarah McLachlan and the Indigo Girls. I was reading books like ‘The Feminist Reader’ and ‘Celibacy as Passion’ (must admit I struggled a bit with that one). On my door I pinned a postcard of Roy Lichtenstein’s growling dog. I was angry, confused, determined, seeking: I must have been hell to live with. It was the most intense and difficult time of my life. I loved it.
Suddenly, a shout from one of my sons sucked me back into the present so fast that I felt dizzy. Here I am, a mum in her forties, chopping vegetables for the family’s supper. How did that happen? And what happened to that angry young woman? Well, dear reader, the short answer is love. Did I betray the sisterhood by getting married and giving birth to boys? Far from it. I found what every human being needs, whatever form it might take: loving companionship, a sense of true homecoming; happiness. I am extraordinarily fortunate. That girl that I was twenty years ago, though, is still part of me: listening to my old cassette of the Indigo Girls, now transferred to my iPod, reminds me of that. This, I think, is one of the magical properties of music. It catapults us back through time, and re-connects us with our previous selves. And if you don’t remember who you were before, how can you appreciate the person you have become? Thank goodness for music, for songs which jumble our memories and weave together the threads of our lives.
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