Mood Music: Why Music Makes Us Nostalgic

It’s a Friday night at the Keswick Theatre, and the crowd is prepared to leave their work weeks far behind with a few drinks and a great show. I am patiently awaiting the lift of the curtain, but there is still some time before the festivities begin. So, I begin to observe my fellow attendees and their behavior. I notice that the majority of the room is not below the ripe age of 30. Most may or may not have seen their glory days slip past them years ago when they were stuck between a dead end job and a hard place. There are any number of bad dye jobs and youthful band shirts that attempt to mask the true ages of these reborn rockers. I elbow my dad, who had brought me to the shindig, in order to grab his attention and impart my observations when the house lights dim. A cheer rises from the crowd and so do several rocker fingers, the pinky and forefinger extended. The band files on stage, picks up their instruments, and immediately starts to play. Lasers and lights flash erratically. And then, there he is: Freddie Mercury from the band, Queen.

Well, sort of. It was a tribute band. And if you closed your eyes, you honestly wouldn’t have known the difference. If you had never seen the man that was here on stage at the Keswick belting out, “Fat Bottom Girls,” you would have truly believed that you had been transported in time, to the 1980’s to be specific, and were living in a beautiful, alternate universe where a great singer had not been taken by a horrible disease. However, if you opened your eyes, you would have been truly sorry. Unfortunately,  you would have seen an extremely hairy, sweaty man who sounded exactly like the late Freddie Mercury.

Right about the time that I saw this extremely talented wannabe hump the stage and drip sweat in a puddle next to his drummer’s feet, I started to question my presence at this event. I loved Queen’s music. I listened to them quite a lot on day trips to the shore with my sister and so they have an especially pertinent and indulgent musical choice when the weather begins to warm. The powerful vocals of Mercury and his relatable lyrics have always tugged on my heartstrings in the recesses of my rock music heart.  But, I did not love this tribute band, despite the singer’s uncanny likeness to Queen’s frontman. And surprisingly, I was in the minority. The crowd, (including my dad) went wild over them, as they sang along, even throwing roses onto the stage. So, I eloquently engaged with this situation by asking, “What gives?”

The missing element for me at this event was a deep sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia, in my own definition, is when a person straddles the past and the present through the connecting elements of one medium. This medium can be a smell, a stroll down an old neighborhood, or yes, you guessed it, a song. Assuredly, this was the feeling emanating from the crowd that was even greater than the alcoholic vapors from their collective breath. Nostalgia did not make the Freddy Mercury double sweat any less, but, for this crowd, it had the effect of a fairy godmother’s magic wand: it made him a superstar, and it made them young again.

But nostalgia is not reserved for a middle-aged audience in downtown Keswick. Brittany Tedesco, a sophomore Global Media major, discusses a similar experience in an interview: “Certain songs will remind me of those awkward middle school dances because those are the songs we danced to over and over again. Other songs will remind me of a certain summer or trips to the beach with my best friends because those were the songs we blasted in the car with the windows down.”

It’s a universal experience, but Tedesco points out an important element about nostalgia: it is not always a good memory that we are transported back to when we hear a specific song. She explains, “… if you’re listening to a sad song and you recently went through a break up, it makes you miss that person or a special time with that person.”

So, do we avoid nostalgia because it might end up in relived heartbreak? I am certain that more than one rocker at the Queen tribute concert was rather jovial at the concert. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that they were not in a slump for a few days; remembering good times when they were younger, but unable to experience them again for more than a night. Once the lights went on in the house, and the guitars were packed up, and they were on their way back home on the highway, the crowd’s thoughts turned to their glory days. Way back when they were seeing and hearing the real Queen. And then, a crippling depression over lost youthful memories assuredly seeped in and discolored the photographs in their mind, covered them with a faded sepia tone that marked their age and dog-eared the corners.

Perhaps one night is all you need to feel young again, especially if you’re the one singing the songs. As Dr. Elizabeth Murphy, the director of the music program here at Arcadia and a decorated soprano, imparts of her experience with the songs she sings, “My mother played 1950’s music when she cleaned the house when I was growing up so I have a fondness for this music and think of her when I hear it…I perform Classical music and opera because it is what I was trained and called to do and for me is the epitome of the singing art form: using my body/voice to its full ability. I think everyone is like me in this regard. Music is necessary and feeds our souls.” As a result, Dr. Murphy can revisit her nostalgia at any time, and so could the crowd. After hearing this, I realized that I had experienced the raw power of nostalgia, the feeding of so many souls. A buffet for your spirit, I discovered that nostalgia was an absolutely awe-inspiring force.

Nostalgia can cause you to slip back into a reverie of childhood. When you smell your grandmother’s perfume, it brings you back to your grandmother’s house, memories you never realized you would treasure when she died two years ago. Nostalgia can make you wear that crop top that you’ve had in the back of your closet for twenty years from when you were about twenty pounds lighter. The point is, I can’t tell you how to relive your best moments, but I can offer this advice: make sure you take the time to make some memories by meeting new friends and spending time with old ones because in the end, as nostalgia can prove, that is what you will remember the most. And really, you never know when nostalgia will strike. So, arm yourself with happiness, and hit the play button one more time as much as you can.

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