“Why do we want to remember?!” I was asked the other day. If we overlook the boring evolutionary advantages of memory, it is a fun philosophical question. Something to ponder as I listen to my newly downloaded “This is Bach” playlist playing in my life-changing fabulous Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones.
And what of the music fan who just wants to hear music they recall from their younger formative days – who hears every concert through the prism of previous listening: ‘This is a song from that period, which I like. This is a song from another period which I don’t like’. We are all prone to do this. If I see Paul McCartney in concert, I will not hear songs from the Beatles or Wings or recent solo works in the same way. It is hard to set aside our historic passions and expectations. We are partly locked in a celebration of the past. Which can be great fun. I saw Fleetwood Mac at the O2, where amidst a sea of camera phones and sing-a-long (including my own) they played all of “Rumours” and “Tusk”. And a wonderful night it was too.
But what if the purpose is different. To play and hear the music as if for the first time. Those magical spine-chilling life-changing moments.
One solution for an artist is to play very little old material. I saw Paul Weller interview Paul McCartney, where he pointed out that McCartney’s willingness to embrace his old catalogue was one reason why he was filling stadia while Paul Weller, who only wanted to play new material, was playing Church halls (I paraphrase).
Or you can embrace a middle ground. Re-visiting, but re-inventing the catalogue. An expanded present moment. All the music is new whenever it was written. And as such our memories and pre-conceived notions may get in the way, although I hope I would be open to an acoustic rendition of “I saw her Standing there”, a full band version of “Blackbird”, or indeed, if we are talking Paul McCartney, a new song – such as “My Valentine” which I first heard Live at the BBC in 2013.
And what of our attempts to make memories? “I must remember this” or “a photograph to remember it by”. In those moments, our attempts to make memories risk removing us from the very present moment we are trying to remember. (These thoughts all coming from someone who spends much of his life deep in contemplation completely unaware of his surroundings).
I have had to break off to attend to my playlist. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Those famous opening three notes that go “da da da” have in this rendition now gained a trill, so that they go “da da daddledaddledaddle da”. You can’t do that. THAT’S NOT HOW IT GOES!