You move on, and just know that sometimes the past fully goes away and sometimes it just stays inside you, in a little strange heart-shaped box.
It’s November 2016 and I’m parked outside KFC breaking up with the person I love. We just had a meal and even though no mention was made of the coming event, the elephant in the room was in the next booth having a two-piecer. It played out like most breakups do so I won’t go into the details.
Many tears later, I’m driving away and PPP by Beach House is playing on the radio. Like a time-capsule, the song takes this moment and buries it deep in my sub-conscious – to be unearthed with each play.
Music is especially good at framing moments.
In a sense, this is what movie soundtracks are for. You can’t hear Hans Zimmers “Time” without tumbling into the dreamscape that is Inception or Vanessa Carlton’s “1000 miles” without picturing Terry Crews blaring his heart out (and if you don’t then there’s something terribly wrong and you should get that checked out).
As Africans, we preserve(d) our culture through song. Some chronicled individual experiences while others addressed the experiences of the community as a whole. Music conveyed our history from one generation to the next for centuries until the white man came and turned everything into shit. Still, the value of song to the African didn’t dissipate.
When we’re children we gain an emotional attachment to music even before we know what it actually is. Had you asked me whether I listened to Erykah Badu before 2016 my answer would be a firm no. But as soon as I hear ‘Next Lifetime’, it’s a warm Saturday morning and I’m eight again at the back of my mum’s maroon starlet with Ms. Badu on Capital FM. I can feel the sun through the tinted window, the cold belt buckle on the palm of my fidgety hands and the calm familiarity that only comes with being in the presence of a loved one.
The older we grow, the more ingrained this connection becomes. You are more likely to be emotionally connected to the music you listened to in your adolescence/young adulthood than the music later on in your life. That’s what the nostalgia radio stations (Classic FM ahem ahem) capitalize on.
Conversely, we all know a number of people that bash new music for the sole reason that it is new. If you’re anywhere in my age-group, listen. Cherish the music you’re listening to now. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself at forty-five backhanded by SWAT’s verse into an emotional spiral of fleeting adulthood. Find a room to cry in so as not to traumatize the children.
This is why it’s monumental to us when someone likes the same songs that we do. Listening to music is something that we do alone so when we find someone that shares their solace with the same music, we don’t feel so alone anymore. However, similar interests do not necessarily translate into compatibility as I’m sure we’ve all learned by this point in our lives. But I digress.
The songs that unearth all these buried emotions are good for you. Especially when it comes to heartbreak because remembering it is as essential as the heartbreak itself. If you forget then cycle is likely to recur. Try it. Put your phone on shuffle and dredge out all the muck from long-lost lovers. Remember the good and the bad.
After the breakup, the opening keys of Beach Houses ‘PPP’ now play like impending doom in my head. I’m standing at the shore watching the tsunami roll in and since all my bridges are burnt, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s almost beautiful, really. The guilt hits first (why do I feel this way if I’m the one that did the breaking up) and then the trauma comes next (more concerned with feeling than reasoning why). When my bones are shattered and my soul crushed, the clouds part and catharsis finally shines through.
So I brush away the sands of self-pity and play the next song.
Image: Masashi Wakui