Alan Davis
2 min readJan 16, 2024


What Song Always Brings Back a Particular Memory?

In Remembrance of Things Past, possibly the longest novel in history, Marcel Proust famously wrote about a madeleine, a traditional small sponge cake found in the Lorraine region of France. When his protagonist eats a tea-soaked madeleine, he involuntarily recalls a childhood memory; the taste of the cake opens up a portion of his past to him.

I’d like to think it’s the same with music, which can be as delectable as sponge cake. My mind, though, doesn’t seem to work like that; it doesn’t associate a particular song with a particular memory. I do remember one of the few times I smoked pot alone (the drug, I should add, was never my thing and I no longer indulge); I sat back in a chair in a dimly lit room and listened to Joni Mitchell’s album Blue for the first time. I’ve never before or since experienced music with such aesthetic and emotional intensity. Every note, every pluck on her guitar, every syllable she sang seemed to speak directly to me. I haven’t had the chance to tell Joni that, but I’m telling her now. And I’m telling you, too.

I don’t live for music, literature is closer to my heart and spirit, but, like you, I can’t imagine a world without it, I just don’t have a song that works for me like a bite of madeleine. Particular memories of all sorts come and go of their own accord for reasons that have more to do, perhaps, with the position of the planets or the stars than with sights and sounds. We have tides and motions inside us that can yield significant memories and spiritual insight if we’re lucky (indigestion, or worse, if we’re not). Even so, I lose myself momentarily in music almost every day and I’m very grateful to the gods and goddesses of sight and sound.

If I had to choose, I admit, I suppose I might choose to be deaf instead of blind (after having multiple eye surgeries over the decades). I love what I see in the world around me. As Peter Handke put it, “People used to say that the blessed would see heaven; my wish would be to see the earth forever.”

I’ll never have to choose, of course; such catastrophes happen, if they happen, of their own accord or by accident. My hope is to hear and see you (and you, and you) when we meet, to allow the music of the moment to wash over me, not like the taste of a madeleine or a soundtrack to a movie actually taking place without a script but like ocean surf, the sound of rustling wind, or the cacophonous clamor of everybody getting no place fast but enamored by every moment of the journey.