Monday, June 23, 2014

Dave Grohl in My Face

Don't let your fangirling get the best of you, but I have some exciting news to share.
Are you ready?
Sitting down?
No hot liquids in your hands?
Here goes:

Dave Grohl's face will officially be making its first appearance in South Africa this December! Can I get a collective "Ahhhh yeahhhhhh!"?
Yes, it's true, Big Concerts have brought out the big guns and gotten Foo Fighters to tour South Africa.
Judging by the reaction on Twitter (as well as my own screams as I drove down Orange Street on my way to work this morning...) people are very excited to finally see the Foos on home soil. It's been years in coming, and finally we'll get to see that famed 3 hour long show, during which DG will astound as with his general awesomeness, and we might all fall into a fingerling coma so deep that work the next day may just not be possible. Book your leave now.

Dave and co hit Cape Town on the 10th of December and Jozi on the 13th. Lucky up-country crowd get a weekend show, whilst us Capetonians have to settle for a Wednesday night at our very own stadium, but nothing, and I mean nothing, can dampen my current excitement.

Yes, I'll be going Golden Circle (and at R960 per ticket, I won't be eating much more than Two-Minute Noodles for the duration of next month - hello credit card) and yes, I'll  be first in line at Computicket this Thursday morning when tickets go on sale.

Find out more at

I'm rather upset with myself for never having blogged about my previous Foos experience, but you can read about the first half of my trip to Reading Festival 2012 (headlined by DG and his boys) here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"On An Emotional Note..." Why Do Songs Bring Memories Back?

“Funny how a melody sounds like a memory
Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night
Springsteen, Springsteen”

Or so says American country singer Eric Church is his song named after the greatest legend of our time. But I’m not here to tell you how amazing Bruce is – you can figure that out for yourself.

No, in fact a few days ago, a friend picked me up to go to another friend’s birthday party, and the CD in first friend’s car was none other than the soundtrack to me childhood. It brought back a flood of memories of my early years, when the sun was high in the sky, and Boyzone flooded the airwaves. Where a Saturday morning out meant a trip to the local flea market, where I could be treated to one pancake, which I was to savour as I wandered around behind assorted family members. Where you packed your lunch every morning before heading out the door to work, and when Cup-A-Soup was the only guard against those dreaded days when the temperature fell below 20 degrees. When a trip to Durban was a pipe-dream, for it was just so far away. 16 years is a long time when one is only 23, but when that CD plays, it feels like it was just a heartbeat ago. Not even as though I am remembering a time past, but as though I am experiencing everything right in the moment, right now.

A 1999 study by Schulkind, Hennis and Rubin found a strong positive correlation between emotion and the strength of the memory. Now, as I’m not at a university, I am battling to find a full-text version of their article, but it does support some of my own experiences. I find that either the more fondly, or conversely, the less fondly I look back upon my experiences, the stronger the connection is to the song associated with the memory. Lost yet? Let’s examine things further.

I look back upon certain parts of my childhood with a love so fierce that when thinking back, the nostalgia can be so strong that it’s almost painful. Those are the days associated with the Boyzone CD in question here. And why should I have developed such a strong connection? Well, because I killed the damned album, that’s why! In those days, it was on a tape, and because music was less freely available (read: before the internet) back then, when once acquired a tape, one played the thing to death before moving on to another. Same thing happened with a certain Westlife album about four years later (but this time it actually was a CD).

Perhaps, you think that memories of childhood are most easily and strongly invoked by music, but you’d be wrong. Gwen Stefani’s ‘The Sweet Escape’ makes me feel physically ill because it reminds me of the time way back in my first year of university (6 years ago) when I was forced to wake up at 5am every day for a week, and sing the song to an assembled group of boys. They called it bonding – I called it hell.

Moving on, we still haven’t figured out why this happens…

So, a guy called Janata conducted a study to try to figure out exactly that! After playing a random assortment of songs from his subjects’ childhoods, and then asking certain questions, he found that – ta dah! – the most vivid recollections came with the strongest and most important memories*. Combined with a study of brain activity, he was able to confirm his hypothesis that a certain region of the brain links music and memory!

Another fascinating study by Richard Harris of Kansas State University revealed that there was little difference in the strength of the memory brought back by listening to a song vs just thinking about it.+

So what does this mean in terms of rating your favourite song? Would I place Rob Thomas and Santana’s 1999 hit ‘Smooth’ in my top 5 songs ever if I had to hear it today? No, probably not. How much do our memories affect the way we perceive music? I hate ‘The Sweet Escape’ simply for the memories associated with it! If I heard it for the first time today, I’d probably quite like it. It begs the question, do I actually even like 50s music, or do I just love that it reminds me of my grandparents, whom I adore?

I’ll leave you with this thought – what do you do if you begin to associate a favourite song with a situation or a person (say, a boy/girlfriend) that has potential to go pear-shaped? How can I ensure that I don’t think about the guy I was dating in 2014 every time I hear Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Do I Wanna Know’, just because it played on the radio a lot during that month that we dated? I say, simply don’t let it. Make sure you don’t stop listening to the song/album after that era ends, and your brain won’t be able to connect any certain memory with it. If you listen to anything as many times as I’ve listened to Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’ in the past three years, when you listen to it again in 10 years time, your brain will be so bombarded with thoughts and feelings and memories, that it won’t be able to pick one, and you’ll feel … nothing.

And one last thing: remember not to overplay any specific album when you’re particularly depressed. No one likes a girl who cries into her travel mug because for some reason Mark Stoermer’s debut single ‘Everybody Loves the Girl’ just came on shuffle on her iPod.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Florence: Artits, Artful Towers, and Alley Cats of the Roof

This time it's impossible to get lost. Just outside of the train station, we cross the road (severely damaged luggage still in tow) and pop down what we're pretty sure is the road to our hotel. And for once, we're correct. Dodging terrible parked cars, we manage to drag said luggage up a small flight of marble stairs, into a dark lobby complete with one of those old fashioned lifts that looks like something off the Titanic. I mean seriously, you have to close the metal door behind you before the thing will move. Up to the third floor we go, and upon pushing open a heavy glass door, we're spat out into a warm reception, where the concierge enquires as to whether we'd like a room with one double bed, or two single beds. Anything, just give us a place to throw down our bags! So we're ushered into the nearest room, and I collapse on the bed in mock exhaustion, side-eyeing the massive blister that's beginning to bloom on my smallest toe. We throw open the shutters to a view of Florence's residential rooftops... and cats. We were to spend the next two days observing the neighbourhood cats and their movements between the rooftops. Because cats. 

Florence, it turns out, is a haven for cheap handbags and luggage. I manage to pick up a bright pink suitcase for 30 Euros (more than I'd like to have spent, but still), and a new handbag with a zipper for a handle. Pretty cool. I also can't tear myself away from the shops and shops of pretty, sparkly things, so my earring collection has several additions by the time I depart. 

But Florence isn't all shops and money-dropping, we do a fair amount of sight-seeing too. Filled with bridges and rivers and artists, it's quite a place. I also launch a crusade to find the Hard Rock Cafe, and although when I finally do, I'm far too poor to actually afford to eat there, I do stand and gaze at a t-shirt that once belonged to Elvis, and a handwritten speech by The Boss, before tearing myself away to browse the t-shirts - which I'm also too poor to afford. 

But let's get back to the artists I mentioned. Months before, Tatum's parents had been to Florence, and taken a picture of an artist, which T had fallen in love with. She'd made it her life's mission to find this man and speak to him, so I simply had to try my hardest to locate him! I was going off one picture in which he was seated upon a few stairs, clad in an eye-patched, and smiling next to his artworks. And so I proceeded to walk the city of Florence flat ... until I happened to stumble into a very familiar-looking square... and right there in front of me was the exact piece of art in Tatum's mom's photo! But the artist himself was nowhere to be found. Cue lingering around the square until he finally reappeared and I was able to take a photo. So that's what people feel like when they complete a challenge in The Amazing Race!

We wander around town some more and get lost in the baking midday sun, then find a pub for lunch, where I dine upon spaghetti bolognaise and beg for lemonade; giggle at the school group traipsing through the 34 degree heat in their best clothes; attempt to hack into a university's wi-fi; and then make the pilgrimage up a very dark flight of stairs to locate the loo, which is in a part of the pub that looks like it might play host to the occasional karaoke night. 

Mosquitos seem as attracted to Florence in the summer as tourists are, and sleep that night is scare commodity. I keep waking up and swotting my face, but still wake up in the morning covered in marble-sized red bites all over me. Perhaps they're some kind of mutant mosquitos. 

But we're so close to Pisa that we may as well just take a train to the Leaning Towers itself! After being instructed to hurry to the train down yonder as quickly as we can, we then spend the next 45 minutes waiting for the thing to leave. The American tourist carting his entire family with him is far less patient than us, and switches carriages at least four times, luggage and all. I entertain myself watching the interactions of another American man and his son, and trying to decide if they ran away from their tour group or family. By the time we finally do arrive, the sun is high, and the tourists ar plentiful. In fact, one group marches past us complete with audio headsets. My, my, we are serious, are we not? 

As we wander casually through town, I begin to wonder when we might catch sight of this famous tower. I mean, it's surely huge, so why haven't we seen it by now? My question is answered when we round the next corner, and suddenly - there it is! Now, I wasn't expecting the Petronas Towers or the Burj Khalifa, but the Leaning Tower of Pisa is positively tiny! It's adorable! Okay, I've just googled it, and apparently it's 56m tall. Whatever. It could fit in my back pocket. 

Food is, as always, the first order of the day, and I down a margarita (the pizza) and chips (oh, glorious French fries!) and then rip myself away from the gelato, because I'm so stuffed that another morsel of food would almost certainly cause me to explode. 

And so, like the tourists we are, we angle our bodies so that we can obtain the perfect shots holding up the tower, pushing down the tower, and everything else. Note the policeman shouting at everyone doing the same thing to - in no uncertain terms - get off the gosh-damned grass! Seriously, why even have grass outside the tower?

And so a few more souvenirs are purchased, we get lost yet again, and then finally locate the train station to head back to Florence. Cue the - fruitless - attempt to find a TV station that's in English (the only words of the mother tongue I heard are Mika's cries of "underwater, underwater, underwaaaaaaater" on an advert), cue stolen tea from the breakfast room, cue one last check on the rooftop cats, and the next morning we've packed my brand new suitcase, and we're off yet again. Wherever shall the next train land us?