Br(u)no: The Sensory Confluence of Reggae and Memory
Image: CG. For illustrative purposes.
I have a friend who, when he had a difficult test during university, called upon all of his senses to cram difficult information into his head.
His strategy was to connect the information to a piece of fruit.
Let me explain. When he was studying the difficult information, he peeled and ate an orange. The smell of breaking the peal, the sharp taste, and the bodily sensation of eating, swallowing and digesting, all mixed with the information as it was implanted into his memory. During the actual test, when he reached the difficult section, he pulled out an orange, broke the peel and ate it. He did well on the test. It makes sense, reading excites normal synapses. Adding extra senses, like feeling, smelling and eating adds many different neural pathways.
We all have many such sensual connections. Sometimes they come up as déjà vu, the feeling that we have been somewhere or done something before. Other times, they are more commonplace, and personal.
For example, I connect the smell of cinnamon to, of all places, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City and a Cinnabon Bakery Restaurant. I have never eaten anything from that chain, but, whenever I smell cinnamon, I am transported back a decade-and-a-half to walking past the Cannabon, glancing at the magazines on the newsstand and moving with the flow of hundreds of morning commuters to the A subway train.
More recently, I connect Fernet, a disgusting type of alcohol, to being ill. That is something that I did taste. Disgusting.
Clearly, smell and taste are powerful mnemonic devices.
Music is perhaps more so.
Certain songs become associated with specific events. For me, I came close to death while “Dr. Feelgood” by Mötley Crüe was on the car stereo. Whenever I hear that song, it still inspires a visceral feeling of abject terror.
“Lovin’ Every Minute of It” by Loverboy has me mowing lawns in sweltering heat as a teenager. “Seasons” by Chris Cornell transports me to a room I rented for during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college.
“No Rain” by Blind Mellon puts me in my car as I drive over the Narrows Bridge in Tacoma, Wash., on a dark rainy afternoon. I’m on my way to cover a sports event and I have a completely inexplicable feeling of happiness. To this day I still have no idea why I experienced such a surge of joy. Maybe it is just the song; more likely it is something more that was simply deeper in my subconscious.
The New York Marathon starts with “New York, New York” and that song always takes me to November 2015, and not to the (apparently unimpressive) home-team victories that I witnessed at Yankee Stadium. “Vltava” by Bedřich Smetana is similarly connected to half marathons in the Czech Republic.
These memories are strong because of the confluence of the senses.
For me, the music of Bob Marley is in category by itself.
Marley is a Jamaican singer and songwriter. He died in 1981. Thursday would have been his 75th birthday.
No matter where I am, when I hear any Bob Marley song, I am immediately transported to the same specific place: the top of Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah.
It was a clear and beautiful day in the middle of a college spring break trip. It had snowed the night before, so there was soft powder and excellent skiing. Our friend knew many people at the resort, including the woman who ran a small hut at the top of the ridge. After a long morning of skiing, we took the lift and skied to the hut. There were panoramic views in either direction. The inside of the hut was warmed by a wood-burning stove and filled with the pleasant scent of burning pine. We ate steaming bowls of delicious chili.
And we listened to Bob Marley.
I’ve been to Jamaica. I’ve tried to write a short story about a Marley song and two people in Montego Bay. I’ve had friends who were wannabe Rastafarians and who listened to Marley non-stop. I’ve heard Marley songs in many places and in many countries. Yet, every time, that music fires the neurons in my brain that take me to the wintery mountains of Utah, an exhausting morning of skiing and a steaming hot bowl of chili.
I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.