Isn’t it funny how a melody can spark a memory? This is true for me, especially when it comes to music from my teenage years—the mid to late 90s. The songs I loved from that decade inspired my nostalgic YA coming-of-age novel SONG OF A FIREBIRD, which is fiction but also a walk down memory lane. I created a playlist on YouTube and each song corresponds to a chapter in the book. Check it out here:
With all the 90s nostalgia of late, I thought it would be fun to revisit this decade in my novel. Many of today’s teens are fans of retro TV shows like Golden Girls and Friends, and vintage fashion staples like baggy t-shirts, high-waist jeans, Birkenstocks and schrunchies. A book set in 1995 suburban America before laptops, smart phones and playlists is something different and worth exploring. At the risk of sounding like every old person ever, it was a simpler time in my day and the music was better, too. This isn’t just a cliche. It’s science.
Recently, neuroscientists confirmed the songs of our youth have a big influence over our emotions. Researchers uncovered evidence to suggest our brains react to the music we enjoyed as teenagers more than anything we listen to as adults. And, it’s a connection that doesn’t fade as we age. Brain imaging studies demonstrate that our favorite songs stimulate the brain’s pleasure center, which releases dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other bliss-inducing neurochemicals. The more we like a song, the more we get dosed with these feel-good chemicals, flooding our brains with some of the same neurotransmitters that drug users chase after.
Musical nostalgia isn’t in your head—well, technically it is, but you know what I mean. It’s neuroscience. No matter how much your musical tastes might change, your brain will still relish over those songs you sang to, laughed at and cried over over during the drama of adolescence. That’s not surprising, since our teen years are the time when most people begin to discover who they are. When we identify with a particular type of music–metal, punk, rap, hip hop, country, etc.–it becomes part of our self image and defines where we fit in the complex social structure of adolescence.
Listening to the music you loved in your young adulthood is the closest thing to a time machine we’ve got. So, keep that music blasting! Thanks to the magic of music and the brain, we can all go back to our teenage years and feel the joy, heartache and euphoria connected to our musical memories.Which songs spark nostalgia for you? Do you like 90s music? What current songs rival the teen ballads of yesteryear? I’m eager to hear your favorites.