At one stage of my life, I wanted to be a musician. More specifically, I wanted to be the lead guitarist in a band.
There were some flaws in this plan, of course, notable among them the fact that I couldn't play the guitar all that well (I'd learned a handful of basic chords, and I could pick out the main riff from Comfortably Numb, but that was about it). Still, I remained undaunted. I was convinced it couldn't be all that hard to get up to a reasonable standard. In the meantime I had more important things to concentrate on. Like writing the song lyrics. And naming my band.
My desire to play music for a living faded once I realised I'd actually have to do some serious practice, but my love of music never did. It's one of those things that seems to be almost universal. I know people who don't like reading, I know people who aren't that interested in art, but I'm not sure I know anyone who doesn't like music in one form or another. We may disagree violently over what can be classed as good music, but all of us like something – whether it be classical, rock or bizarre novelty pop.
So what is it about music that's so appealing? Why is it that we can't remember anything we learned at school, but we can still remember all the words of our favourite songs from the same period? How is it that music can speak to us in a way that no other medium can?
If I had to guess, I'd say it's because music relates directly to our emotions. A book or a painting engages the brain first; then, if it's good enough, it engages the heart. With music it's the other way round. You don't go looking for music. It comes to you. It's instant and it's accessible. You hear a few notes and that's it: like an evocative smell, the song carries you back to a particular time or place or mood. When I read a book, all it reminds me of is the book itself. When I hear music, it's inextricably linked with all the times I heard it before. What I was doing. How I felt.
After all, there's a reason films have soundtracks: they tie key emotional moments to the music. When you listen to the soundtrack, it helps you relive those moments in a way that just reading a description of the action or seeing a still from the movie can't possibly do. And in exactly the same way, we all create soundtracks for our own lives. Certain songs will always remind us of how it felt to be heartbroken. Others can't help but evoke that one perfect summer or that significant event. Still others bring back, with perfect clarity, what it was like to be a particular age. Even more than a photo album, our music collections are records of our lives – and if we want to remember something, all we have to do is play the right song.
Which songs are in your soundtrack?