I wrote this in August of 2014 during a pretty dark time in my life, but after hearing Wendy Suzuki on The Moth talk about her father's memory, I knew it was time to share.
August 2014 I just got home from seeing Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, a documentary about how music therapy can ease the suffering of Alzheimer's patients. You might have seen a clip from the movie that made the internet rounds a few months ago - an older gentleman named Henry joyously singing along with the music he's hearing in his headphones for the first time in years. I'm still crying mixed tears of sadness and joy, knowing how wonderful it is that so many nursing home facilities in North America are starting to work to provide music for their patients.
I've been a musician nearly all my life, and I know the joy and magic that music can provide. I also know how deeply it locks onto our memories. Many songs have been made better or been totally ruined by the people you were with the first time you heard the song.
I also know a little about Alzheimer's Disease. I've been afraid of Alzheimer's since I knew that the disease existed. In my early 20s my Grannie was diagnosed with it. Grannie passed away 11 years ago in March, two days before my birthday. Her funeral was my family birthday gathering. It was her sister's birthday, too, though Aunt Florence had passed some years before. She also had Alzheimer's Disease, my dad says "big time".
I can't imagine losing my brain, having to be cared for by strangers when I become too much for my family. I can't imagine having nothing around me to remember myself or my life and just wanting to go home, wherever home might be in my head.
While watching the movie Alive Inside they stressed that it's not just any music that helps, it's music that is attached to our memories. The area of the brain where music and memory come together is one of the last to be affected by dementia, and familiar music can help the symptoms of the disease and improve the quality of life for patients by leaps and bounds.
Before I started writing down these thoughts, I made an inspirational playlist of songs I played in concert band in high school. When I hear the saxophone solos I played as a kid, I can still feel the wind rushing out of my lungs and through the instrument to make the sounds that fill the concert hall. I can still feel my hands tremble with the stage fright that still affects me today. I remember so vividly.
So, morbid as it may be, if I do get this dreaded disease, I want someone to play these songs for me:
The big band music I played in jazz band in high school, In the Mood, Sweet Georgia Brown, and Take the A Train.
The symphonic music from high school concert band - particularly anything we played at Concert Bands of America 1994 in the former Medina Temple in Chicago (now a Bloomingdale's and a story for another time).
The James Bond theme, the soundtrack to Aladdin, Christmas Time is Here, and Kodachrome and Call me Al by Paul Simon to remember marching band.
I need 50s, 60s, and 70s rock and roll that my family would listen to on the radio. Joy to the World by Three Dog Night You Really Got Me by the Kinks I Heard it Through the Grapevine only as sung by Marvin Gaye (my favorite song of all time, no other version exists to me). Love Me Tender by Elvis because I laugh every time I think of the musical turn signal my dad bought for my mom. It played Love me Tender until the batteries started to run out and it played "Love Meeee Tenndeerrr, Looooooveeeee Meeeeeeooorrrrrrrrrrr"
You Are My Sunshine, my aunt used to sing it to me. What a Friend we Have in Jesus, to remember Grannie.
Imaginary Dances by William Duckworth to remember the joy of playing my electric piano late into the night into headphones to escape my terrible first marriage.
Songs from all the bands I ever played in and worked with to remember the excitement of the road and to remember confidence. The song Superpill by The Forty-Fives, since I did name one of my bands after the song. Rip it Up and The Girl Can't Help It, Little Richard songs I've covered.
The albums Brighter than Creation's Dark and The Big To Do from the Drive-by Truckers, my all-time favorite band. The band that made me realize I could be a songwriter. The song The Monument Valley to remember peace.
1372 Overton Park by Lucero to remember fun and hope. Ultra by Depeche Mode, to remember curiosity. Haunted by Poe to remember strength. Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry to remember love.
That's just a start. I don't want to forget anything. Please don't let me forget. I like to believe that because music is such a huge part of my life that if I keep it with me I'll never forget.
Alive Inside is now available on Netflix or for purchase. Please consider donating an old iPod to the related charity, Music and Memory. http://musicandmemory.org/