The Soundtrack of My Life, Or The Reminiscence Bump

Person reclining against a wall with their foot on a boombox

They say that the music you listen to when you’re a teen is the music you’ll love for the rest of your life. This makes sense to me: I feel like I had all the time in the world to listen to music and hang out with friends when I was a teenager. I’m too busy now to start liking new songs. I no longer have the emotional capacity to fall in love with various bands. Kids these days!

There’s also a lot to be said about nostalgia. I remember riding on the bus to basketball games and blasting “Swing, Swing” by the All-American Rejects. We’d stretch out the word “pool” to eight syllables singing “Stacy’s Mom” along with the radio. The Black Eyed Peas accompanied me and my hopeless crush as we danced to “I’ve Gotta Feeling” at prom.

But it goes beyond these things. There’s a psychological phenomenon going on that explains why I have to sing and dance along to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” Scientists call it the reminiscence bump, and it essentially refers to the way our brains store our memories most securely from the time we’re 10 till about when we turn 30. Our brains go through some bananas (b-a-n-a-n-a-s – thanks, Gwen Stefani) stuff during our teenage years. There’s a lot of hormonal business taking place, and that’s when we really get to determine our identity. So I guess reading, basketball, and a nearly unhealthy “X Files” obsession would be my identity. Cool.

While music probably creates the strongest neural pathways, I definitely still have a thing for the books and movies I consumed during that time, too. I choked back tears reading “The Book Thief.” I joined the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” I used a couple snow days to journey through “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I wanted to be loved like Mandy Moore in “A Walk to Remember,” and I quoted “Napoleon Dynamite” ad nauseam. But even these memories are scored by music, and I can feel 2005 to my core. Overall, I’m not too mad about the early 2000s soundtrack of my life.

What songs do you remember most from your teenage years? Do you still love the music you loved then?

For Further Reading:

“This Is Your Brain on Music”  by Daniel J. Levitin

“Why You Love Music” by John Powell

“This Is What It Sounds Like”  by Susan Rogers