My husband is transported by music: a half-hour of vintage salsa refreshes his outlook like little else. Although he doesn’t need to analyze the “why” to benefit from the practice, I looked into it. The reason that listening to music makes us feel good dopamine, the same pleasure chemical that encourages us to eat, sleep and have sex. So, music ranks right up there with the activities that we are hard-wired to do. Our very life depends on it.
Music transports me, too: back in time. “Notably, memories stimulated by music often come from particular times in our lives … Psychologists have called it the ‘reminiscence bump’. It may work this way because this is an especially important and exciting time in our lives, when we are experiencing things for the first time…” Tiffany Jenkins, writing in the BBC Culture in 2014.
Arguably, childhood is full of new experiences; just getting taller gives a new feel to the ordinary. For my sister and me, the routine novelties of growing up were added to with every move: new home, new school, new language, new friends, new women living in our home. Music zaps me back there.
Advice to Third Culture Kids like me, who identify at least in part with a culture different from that of their parents, is to travel back to said country, realize that it’s still the same although you’re no longer the person you were, and keep on moving. I’m not Italian or Spanish or Colombian (although my best friend Maria Consuelo has deemed me a Gringa Latina), but music from that time when those places WERE home hits very deep.
Here’s a subset, thanks to amazing Bing!
- Milva, singing Edith Piaf in Italian: Milva was the Italian powerhouse songstress who knocked out Parisienne audiences with her interpretation of Piaf’s repertoire during our lives in Italy (1959 – 63). Her album was often on at home and I later found it on tape. I can almost float on the power of her melodies.
- Rita Pavone’s Pel di carota: Rita Pavone was still a teenager when she burst on the Italian pop music scene. This song, about being a red-head, came out when I was in about to begin fourth grade in Rome. Why does it still runs in my mind’s music loop? Maybe I was beginning to look at teenagers in love.
- La su per le montagne, Coro degli Alpini: Like Milva, the Alpini albums were frequently on the record player in our Rome apartment, especially during our Sunday noon meal. My sister and I learned a couple of the tunes with Dad on guitar. Dad’s sister Snooky, also a music afficionada, had this album at their home in Minneapolis, and I played the title song at full volume as my parents and sister drove off to the airport without me the month before I began college in America.
- Colombian’s Garzon y Collazos, Espumas : The duo of Garzon y Collazos sang traditional Colombian songs. Their hit, Espumas, was on the airwaves in 1966 before we left Bogotá: our maids Julia and Rosana bought it for my sister and me as a good-bye gift. Julia also made us these traditional costumes. There was true cariño there.
- Joan Manuel Serrat’s Mediterraneo: This album (and title song) by the soulful Catalan singer-songwriter/poet’s came out the year we moved to Madrid, back into the Foreign Service from America. By the time we left two years later, I’d racked up college credits, two Spanish boyfriends, and the first of many hangovers. Serrat’s voice connects all that somewhere between my heart and my head.
- Los Machucambos: A Latin trio formed in Paris in 1959 (thanks, Wikipedia), the rhythms and lyrics of this conjunto are infectious, and their album was also part of my parents’ collection. Somewhere along the way I made a tape of the record, and Pepito played in my car as I drove the Massachusetts Turnpike from Albany to Brewster the morning my father died unexpectedly on Cape Cod.
As long as there is music, and words, and photographs, my parents are still with me.