My brother sent me a video through Facebook of an elderly man in a care home – part of the Music and Memory iPod Project.
The man was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and didn’t recognise anyone anymore. A caretaker placed headphones on him and connected him to an iPod. She then explained to him she was going to play a song. When she pressed play, his eyes lit up, nearly bulged out of their sockets: he was hearing a song he used to love as a young man. He began to sing along to it. When they asked him questions later, he could talk a little about his past, about that song and its musicians. The song had dislodged something that was stored deep inside his brain, brought him back to life for a few minutes.
I wrote back to my brother suggesting we start a list of all our mom’s favourite albums. He agreed and reminded me that she already had many vinyls and CDs at home.
Over the weekend, I took advantage of the unusual sunshine over London to walk around Victoria Park. I suddenly had an idea: from now on, every time I called my mother I’d ask her about something from her past, I’d get her to expand on it, and I’d then write it down for her – for us.
In the evening, I gave her a call and, after our initial chit chat about what was going on in our lives, I asked her what was the first album or song she had ever bought.
‘I can’t remember,’ she said. ‘Why do you want to know?’
‘You don’t remember going to Lojas Americanas perhaps? (Americanas was a popular department store in the brasilian town she grew up in, Londrina, where I knew she and her siblings liked to go for ice creams and shopping when they were young.) Or someone giving you a record?’
‘No,’ she said, a little exasperated. ‘We used to listen to a lot of soap operas on the radio though.’
‘We’d gather around the table at night and listen to soaps. There was no TV at the time.’
‘Did your younger brothers and sisters stay quiet while you listened?’
‘They must have,’ she said. ‘I can’t remember.’
Later, I told my boyfriend of this exchange and how disappointed I was -- that realisation that my mother wasn’t like me. What might seem interesting – essential even – for me to remember held no interest to her. Which songs from my past held importance to me?
I remember my first vinyls containing children stories – Peter Pan, Charlie Brown, Sleeping Beauty – and my first proper music album being a two-disc compilation of early 80s hard rock (Joan Jett, Survivor, Judas Priest, etc) called Rock na Cabeça (Rock in the Head). I was 8 and my brother was 6 when we received it as a gift from our dad. As we both owned the compilation together, we decided that disc no.1 would be mine and the second his. He ruined his record soon afterwards when he tried playing it with our dog’s paws as the turntable’s needle.
But would Rock na Cabeça jog my memory if I were ever in Henry's place? The Best of The Smiths probably would, and Suede's first album. Maybe Madonna's Immaculate Collection as well.
‘Why don’t you ask her about her pet pig?’ my boyfriend suggested. ‘She might have more to say about that. She once told me all about him.’