Music, Memory, Remembrance

I opened up Facebook yesterday on my phone as I was waiting for my husband on the street. A picture of my deceased friend’s sons appeared at the top of my News Feed.

My eyes welled up with tears, right there on the sidewalk.

I complain about Facebook. It’s useless, it’s spammy, it’s annoying. But despite all the crap and the noise, it manages to remind me of things I shouldn’t forget. It gives me the opportunity to follow, from afar, the life that my friend would have had.

I’m still not sure, however, if that’s beautiful or just plain heartbreaking.

His sons are adorable; they are growing, and I see his face in their eyes and smiles. My friend passed away last spring, and I think about him more often than I expected. I mentioned this to another friend in London, who was also close to him, and he said the same. It’s random, when I think of him. No trigger — photo or song, for instance — is needed, although both certainly will do the trick: like the picture of us on my fridge, or any track by Roni Size or on Dig Your Own Hole. Or something from Wyclef Jean’s The Carnival.

And recently, one day, BBC Radio 6 played this. This song has played in my head a few times over the years, when my mind has wandered and I’ve thought about how my friends and I used to dance every weekend, ’til the morning. But I’d never actually heard it play — released from the past, escaped from my mind — since college, when he and I listened to it late one night.

Mesdames et messieurs: le disc-jockey Sash est de retour.

I listened to it from start to finish, and it brought me down. A strange feeling it was, too, because whenever I watched my friend slink and break and bounce about in the middle of my bedroom while blasting trance from an overused, beat-up mixtape, it made me happy. He was so fun, so energetic, and so carefree. And trance, one of the types of music we bonded over — the swiftness of its beat, the way it soared so epically — made us feel invincible.

But hearing it again, knowing that we’re not invincible — that I’m no longer 20, and he is no longer here — was odd.

It’s as if the song died with him.

* * *

I post very infrequently here — because of writer’s block, lack of time, and any other excuse I can give you. I’ll try to do better. I’ve carved a space for myself here yet have become so quiet. You might see changes, then, from shorter posts to more experimentation. 

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

33 thoughts on “Music, Memory, Remembrance

  1. Great to hear someone talk about the positive connectedness that we can experience through Facebook. Very well expressed thoughts about grief and loss too – you have managed to explain something that’s quite difficult to put into words.

  2. It happens to me too, songs that bring me down because they remind me of the person I lost. Reminds me of what I’m missing because they are not around!!

  3. I think that heartbreak can be incredibly beautiful; it’s part of the magic of the human condition.

    Things can break your heart.

    Or they can break it open.

  4. I lost one of my best friends this year! It just breaks my heart. No words in the world can explain the agony that my heart feels when I think of her…the moments spent with her were so beautiful, so full of laughter, innocence and charm. I feel that good memories actually make you dead sad. I try not to think of her or listen or talk about anything that reminds me of her and still I can’t stop her from coming to my mind and making her absence much more painful…she was just 25. I can totally understand how you must be feeling, but you have the beautiful reflections of your friend in his children! Just love everyone around you. Life is so short and unexpected.

  5. I so enjoyed–that’s not really the right word–reading your post. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook but think you’ve written so well on a big reason we’re all hooked. In this age of disconnection, it reconnects us. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Even if it’s a simple journal entry, as this sounds to me, I think your readers greatly appreciate your time. We are all so busy, and I hope to read more of your stuff…even if you write a quick, little diddy on a sticky note!

  7. Thanks for this post. Your comment about Facebook being annoying yet also somehow necessary is spot-on. A friend’s brother died suddenly and she posted about it the other day. We’re on opposite coasts and I would have never known what had happened, and I was able to reach out and send a message across the miles. I’m sorry for your loss. Thanks, too, for sharing the SASH song. I never really got into trance, but I like this song and can picture your friend dancing around to it in an invincible way.

  8. Beautiful! Don’t let the music die! Let it remind you of him and the fun memories and love you’ve shared. Just recently I heard a song that my brother who recently passed used to sing and it made me smile – welled up a bit, but good memories.

  9. You say you post infrequently but with this one alone you have made a bunch of strangers all listen to the same dance tune wherever they are in the world–most likely not to dance–and they have felt things that they otherwise would have kept tamped down and just got on with their daily business. The power of a post…

  10. Beautiful post, Cheri — and also heartbreaking. I hope the happy memories of your friend will one day conquer your grief, and that, in time, that song will make you smile and slink and break and bounce about in the middle of your bedroom. My heartfelt sympathies to you …

  11. That last line killed me. Beautiful!

    Shorter posts can be just as powerful and revelatory as longer ones. Happy to see you posting anything here, and looking forward to the experimentation too!

  12. Loved your post Cheri… does the heart good to remember and cherish those we have lost. It is an uncomfortable feeling and I will avoid it if I can, but sometimes it sneaks up on you (on the street) with a song, a smell or even someone else’s laugh. I am sorry about the loss of your friend, but stay grateful for the memories that are in your heart forever 🙂

  13. Oh the sad beauty of losing a friend, of love still beating in us when we think of them, music so evocative in bringing the past back into the present. Lovely post…

  14. This was poignant Cheri. It points to our curious paradoxical relationship with online connection – that because it lacks the 3-dimensionality of real life, it therefore doesn’t “count” as much, and yet nevertheless it has the extraordinary capacity to make us feel real emotion right here in our “real” lives when we are moved or touched by an event or someone’s words. We have a momentary “presence” in each other’s lives when we connect via our blogs and at the same time our digital presence can have this weird everlasting permanence even though we’re deceased! It’s a conundrum that can only be looked at obliquely and you do it well in your post.

  15. Thank you for sharing. I have a friend I lost a few years ago. Sometimes I think of him and most times I start to laugh since we did some of the silliest things two guys could have done. I feel close to him when I remember him.

  16. Cheri, this is both heartbreaking – to lose both a friend and a song – and beautiful. I listened to the song while I read your piece and saw you and your friend dancing in a bedroom, an evocative image that so many of us can relate to. (Forget the club – we’ll dance at home). I remembered similar scenes from my 20s and cried at the end for your losses. Beautifully written, and my heart is with you.

  17. Two years back I found one friend dead from electrocution. Now I can never use an electrical appliance without the thought, at least casually, that this might be my last moment. We are such frail creatures really, although you’d never know it from the way that we act. Thank you for this moving piece, as I am grateful for the spark to remember a friend that was truly one of the good guys…

  18. Fine title, wonderful writing; music is so evocative for me so I identify with some of what you have written, though of course not the specifics. Otherwise I would just echo what Kathleen has so eloquently identified in an earlier comment. As a postscript I realise that you are busy, but these “intense bursts” are inspirational — please consider dropping some more in this form … please.

    1. Thanks — I’d recently told a colleague a tip for finding time to write — just set aside 5-10 minutes to write something down. I haven’t been writing at all for myself, and I’d fallen into a hole in which I felt like I needed to set aside an entire Saturday or Sunday to get something meaningful and substantial down. Hence the freezing up, month after month.

      So, I took my own 5-10 minute advice, and this is what resulted. I’m already thinking of other “intense bursts” (nice way of putting it!) I can write quickly. Hopefully I can keep it up!

  19. Such a somber note at the end. I know exactly what you mean. I lost a few along the way & it’s like the times went with them too. The music, the fun of it all. Sigh.

    Take a virtual hug from me, Cheri. We could all use one every now and again. Although sometimes cheesy, I hope it feels like a real hug.

  20. It is a universal theme in all our lives these days. The reminders of ones lost pop up before us on a screen, not just in our heads when this or that may trigger an image of their face in our consciousness. They aren’t supposed to die so young and leave us only with memories.

  21. Your posts made me think of the spiral of grief: passing the same point, only a little higher up the experience each time; you’re right, writing may be a cathartic experience in the process.

  22. Ah, heart out to you… blessings, because music and love have saved me many times over.

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