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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Blissful Moment: Music

Musical awakening starts early; for many, it happens in the first months of life, as they are exposed to the radio, to adults singing around them, to instruments being played; for some, it starts even earlier: in the womb, with headphones placed on mommy's tummy, in the hope baby will benefit from it.

Whichever way, music plays an immeasurable role in the life of every hearing being (I once had a cat who rolled and purred whenever he heard opera). Music is powerful enough to fill us with emotion (I've had to explain to my worried daughters that tears do not necessarily mean sadness - beautiful music can also have that effect). Music helps us deal with good and bad moments: sentimental music for falling in love AND surviving breakups, energetic music for working out, happy music for our moments of intense joy, angry music as an outlet to our frustrations, calm music to relax... I have even used sad music to help me in the process of grieving a loved one (release the tears, feel a little bit better).

I was probably in my mid-teens when I connected the dots and realized that a lot of "oldie" songs I liked had been playing in the house when I was a baby/toddler. I could not remember them consciously, but I nonetheless had a special relationship with those songs; they felt like an old friend, a member of the family. For a taste of some of those songs of the late seventies (English and French), take a look a this link.

My first conscious discovery of music happened around the age of 7-8. By that age, the memories are not fading away as quickly as they form; I am able to remember pretty clearly the songs I heard during those childhood years and after. Specifically, I remember songs from the summer of 1984, when I was hospitalized for a bad case of pneumonia. With nothing else to do but read Le petit prince (which I understood only partly - some books are meant to be reread in adult years) and listen to my roommate's radio, I began to enjoy the hits quite a lot. It was the eighties in all their might. I discovered (or rediscovered, for some of them had already been making the top 10s), those names and some more (in alphabetical order - no jealousy!): Bananarama, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Tina Turner, etc.

1984 was also the year the following songs became hits (just a sample of different styles of tunes from other singers/composers, taken from the 100 top hits of the year):
- John Waite's Missing you
- Laura Branigan's Self Control
- Pointed Sisters' Jump
- Genesis' That's All
- Elton John's I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues
- Corey Hart's Sunglasses at Night
- ... And so many more cool tunes!

Those songs, singers and groups still make up a good part of my music collection. Even after so many years, it seems that you cannot part with your first musical memories. Even if younger people comment on them being tacky.

I also associate important moments of my life to that music of the eighties.

First of all, rock and pop music (or more specifically the lyrics) played a big part in me learning my first English words. I would sing along with "pretend words" I thought I heard, having no idea what the song really was about. Gradually, as the sounds became familiar, and with the help of my bilingual parents, I was able to figure out the main theme of the songs.

Boy George (Culture Club) was my first encounter with gender ambiguity. I remember asking my mom if "this person" was a man or a woman. She simply replied "He's a man who likes to dress and wear makeup like a woman". I spent some time looking at the picture, intrigued, and wondering to myself "does he have a girlfriend or a boyfriend?" But I was not traumatized. Proof that sometimes, instead of trying to shield children against everything, an honest answer does the job. What WAS traumatizing in that era was Michael Jackson's Thriller video; my brother and I called it the "horror movie".

Another intriguing one was David Bowie. I used to secretly listen to my mom's record when she was not there (I was not supposed to touch it), and particularly enjoyed Blue Jean. My favorite Bowie song, however, was already playing shortly before the seventies, in line with the space exploration zeitgeist: Space Oddity. Meanwhile, I had to wait 'til 1993 for my favorite Duran Duran song to be released: Come Undone.

What about you? What memories do you associate with music? What were your first musical experiences? Did any kind of music follow you for the rest of your life, getting a little old, but still much loved?

While you think about this, I'll be busy compiling my favorite musical pieces from other eras and styles!

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