Generation Z is riddled with old souls who yearn for the nostalgia of bygone eras. Just look at the new popularity of Friends. Or the way 70s, 80s, and 90s fashion has been making a serious comeback lately. For all of our TikTok dancing, Instagram reels, and Apple watches, we seem to be hyper-aware of the decades that shaped our culture. Though, of all the art, movies, television, and fashion that came from the 20th century, nothing is more recognizable than its music.
It’s the century that invented rock n’ roll, blues, jazz, and progressive rock. Without iconic bands like Fleetwood Mac dominating the blues-rock scene, or Genesis turning traditional rock on its head with 20-minute ballads, we Gen Z’ers might not have grown up with Miley Cyrus’ Can’t Be Tamed album narrating youthful rebellious stages. Or Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” mimicking the way Genesis, ABBA, and even Cher songs weaved a story within their lyrics.
The nostalgia-inducing music that played in the background of our elementary school field days, middle school dances, and high school slumber parties carefully honed our tastes into what they are today. And many of those artists such as Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Selena Gomez were all influenced by 20th-century kings and queens of music like Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, and Freddie Mercury.
For me, it goes farther than Stevie Nicks or Elton John. My love of dated music started when I was three years old (yes, I remember being that young), and sparks a different kind of nostalgia.
You see, I was a toddler who was obsessed with the Rat Pack, in particular with the Italian love-croons of Dean Martin. Don’t laugh, it’s true. I’m told that when I was a baby, my dad would sing Dean Martin to get me to sleep. Perhaps that rooted the Italian crooner into my subconscious mind because he hasn’t left it since.
In an article from the BBC, Robert Snyder, composer and chair of the sound program of the Art Institute of Chicago, said, “A large part of memory takes place in the unconscious mind.” When we recall memories touched by music, the unconscious brain was doing all the work in retaining the soundtracks that played throughout our lives. If a certain song was playing during a joyful or traumatic experience, hearing it later in life can trigger all kinds of memories in the brain.
Research conducted in a Milne Publishing study called “Music and the Child” concluded that “musical study and training are indeed beneficial to the human brain.” In regards to music and culture (and culture certainly influences childhood), music has a direct role in sparking memories later in life.
When we recall memories touched by music, the unconscious brain was doing all the work in retaining the soundtracks that played throughout our lives.
My parents are Boomers, so their music was my music (and I have to say it was pretty damn good). And while they grew up in the age of Wham and Queen, they were originally exposed to their parents’ records as well. This consisted of golden throats like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and Doris Day.
When I would insert the yellow CD of Dean Martin classics into our old Phillips radio, and gleefully dance around the kitchen table to “Everybody Loves Somebody,” “That’s Amore,” and “Volare,” I had no idea I was paving the way for my brain to gravitate to nothing but oldies when listening to music in my later years.
To this day, I’ll blast Sammy Davis in the car, full volume, windows down (when I’m the only passenger, of course). While I have plenty of friends who jam out to Hall and Oates and George Michael (I know someone who went to an Elton John concert and cried during “Benny and the Jets”), not everyone wants to listen to “Candyman” when they’re in my car. When it comes to relating to people as they rap along to Freddie Gibbs and ASAP Rocky, I fall woefully short.
At parties, when Drake or Cardi B blares through the speakers and everyone stops what they’re doing to rap in unison, I sink into the sidelines like I’m standing in a room of people shouting a foreign language. Yes, I feel out of the loop, and yes, I wish I’d welcomed today’s music names into my playlist earlier on (when my preferences were more malleable).
And who’s to blame? My history of nostalgia-ridden albums. But because of how far back into my childhood my love of music goes, I can’t bring myself to change. And sometimes, I don’t think I’d ever want to.
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