Music is the Language of Memory

The author Jodi Picoult said, “For better or for worse, music is the language of memory” and after conversing with friends the other day about live music concerts we had seen, I couldn’t agree more. What I found remarkable about each of our stories was how we could recall minute details of events that had transpired before, during, and after a show whether it happened a year or twenty years ago. Naturally, this had me reminiscing about some of the more memorable music concerts I have seen throughout the years.

Neil Diamond has sold more than 125 million records throughout his fifty year career and he is best-known for his hit songs Crackling Rosie, Song Sung Blue, Forever in Blue Jeans, and Heartlight. I was just a child when my family went to see him in concert at an outdoor theater on a beautiful sunny day. My mother, who is his number one fan, was so excited but I was filled with panic because Neil Diamond was my childhood “boogie man”. He wasn’t the scary monster kind of boogie man but one who wore a sparkly outfit with platform shoes (I’ve always had a very active imagination). After he took the stage to much fan-fare and sang in his smooth baritone voice I quickly discovered that the boogie man wasn’t so frightening after all.


The Grammy nominated B-52’s who banded in 1976 are regarded as an American New Wave band often recognized for their beehive hairdos, quirky lyrics, and eclectic style. Whenever I listen to the B-52’s, it always takes me back to one of the happiest memories I have of my brother. Like most young siblings we seldom got along. I was a teenager when he surprised me with take-out and a ticket to their Cosmic Thing concert. For two hours straight the B-52’s literally rocked the house and performed their hit songs Rock Lobster, Private Idaho, Love Shack, Deadbeat Club and Roam. We had a blast!

Grateful Dead

I never really was a big Grateful Dead fan but in retrospect I consider myself fortunate to have seen them on not one but two separate occasions. With a combined total of 77 studio, compilation, and live albums, the Grateful Dead had a career that spanned 30 years and played more than 2,300 shows around the world.

The first show I saw was in Northern Vermont with five of my friends. Miraculously all of us managed to fit, rather uncomfortably, into a small four-seater car on what ended up being a fourteen hour round road trip. With more than 60,000 people in attendance at this show I would just happen to run into my first heartbreak in the parking area. Needless to say, I felt a little bit down and out amongst the cheering crowd as the Grateful Dead played Fire on the Mountain, Sugar Magnolia, and Let the Good Times Roll.

Grand Canyon Sunrise

The second Grateful Dead show I saw was in Las Vegas, Nevada a few months before Jerry Garcia’s death on August 9, 1995. At the last minute, I acquired two free tickets from an acquaintance. Late in the night a friend and I left from New Mexico and midway through our journey we arrived at the Grand Canyon in Arizona before sunrise to watch the most spectacular vista unveil itself before our eyes.

Grateful Dead, Las Vegas

The day of the concert was an excruciatingly hot afternoon with temperatures soaring around 110 degrees Fahrenheit inside the amphitheater. Even though we were only thirty feet from the stage I couldn’t see past the woman with the big floppy hat in front of me. Dave Matthews opened the show and played songs from their six time platinum album Under the Table and Dreaming but by the time the Grateful Dead took the stage I was exhausted, sunburnt and dehydrated.

john mayall

With a career that spans fifty years, John Mayall is hailed as the “Father of British Blues”. In addition to his songwriting talents and musical prowess on guitar, harmonica and keyboards John Mayall is also known for taking many now legendary musicians under his wing. Included are Eric Clapton; Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac; Jack Bruce of Cream; and Mick Taylor and Harvey Mandel of The Rolling Stones. To have the opportunity to see and meet John Mayall at a small venue in Connecticut made me swoon even though he only said hello.

david byrne

Not only is David Byrne a gifted musician, singer, songwriter, and founder of the Talking Heads, he is also a Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe recipient as well as the author of nine books. When my best friend treated me and five other friends to see him on his “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno Tour” on her birthday, I was ecstatic and honored. We had a great time cheering and dancing with the rest of the crowd from the front row balcony. That night David delighted everyone by performing three encores which included the songs Strange Overtones, Once in a Lifetime, and Burning Down the House. Clearly, no one wanted the show to end.


I could go on and on about other great bands I have seen including Billy Joel, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Morrissey, and Arlo Guthrie but I don’t want to take up your entire day. I will finish by saying that every live concert has a story and that music has the power to awaken our memories and remind us of our own incredible life journey whether uncomfortable or profound.
If you would like to take a trip down memory lane, stop by the Oliver Wolcott Library to check out the extensive music collection of every genre with new titles being added every week.

-Tricia Messenger is the Library Assistant and Publicity Coordinator for the Oliver Wolcott Library.

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