We recently saw a documentary film that is just opening now, so we want to call it to your attention. As you will read below, the film–Alive Inside–is quite novel and inspiring.


Memory is the measure of who we are as individuals. And much of our self-identity as human beings is defined by the pieces of music we know and love. They are so often key markers of our life’s journey. Some of our first posts on this blog dealt with music and memory. At the bottom of this post we you can re-read “Music and Personal Memory.”

The power of music’s intimate connection with memory was dramatized for us recently by the documentary Alive Inside : A Story of Music and Memory. Filmed over a span of some three years, it won the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It is a remarkable testament to the regenerative power of music for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia, over-medicated people who had been languishing in a near-vegetative state in nursing homes all over the country.

Thanks to the initiative and perseverance of social worker Dan Cohen, not to mention a cadre of committed health care workers, personalized music is downloaded to iPods and brought to a wide range of nursing home patients, re-awakening in them deeply locked memories and giving them a new lease on life. Dan Cohen’s mission is bring such music to the 16,000 nursing homes in the U.S.

Speaking of numbers, it’s worth noting that there are now some 5 million in this country suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The number is expected to double within the next 25 years, with 1 in 6 of us likely to develop some form of dementia. The current research we draw on strongly suggests that this number can be reduced by choosing a lifestyle that supports mental alertness and positive emotions. Music can contribute directly to both–which is what this blog is about!

Here is the movie trailer for Alive Inside.

YouTube Preview Image
And here is an early rough cut from the movie that went viral, being watched by over 6 million in just over 4 days. Henry, a 94-year-old dementia patient who was wheelchair-bound, was unable to recognize his daughter or even remember how many daughters he had. But he was “awakened” by one of his favorite musicians, Cab Calloway. You see him lighting up, singing, rocking and moving his arms, brought to life again by “his” music.

YouTube Preview Image

 Here is one of our very first posts, on MUSIC AND PERSONAL MEMORY:

Is there any form of human expression more personal than music? How rarely, if ever, do we hear someone say, “That’s my kind of poem” or novel or play or painting?

Musical memories define so much of who we are and the many stations we pass through on life’s journey: your high school graduation, your first real love, your courtship, the first Broadway show or concert you attended, your loss of a loved one, your connection with your parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren.

For starters, think of such standards as “Memories of You,” “Memory Lane,” “Laura,” “Unforgettable,” or “Memory” in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats.

Or how about the Hoagy Carmichael classic, “Star Dust,” which is “a richly layered statement about memory. It is not simply a conventional ballad of love lost, but rather a song about a song, and the evocative power of that song, as a lover, solitary and forlorn, gazes at the stars, humming it in his head all the while” (Joshua Berrett, Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004, 166).

The list goes on and on. How many operas, musicals, and movies depend on themes and motifs to recall or identify a situation or character?

Think of John Williams’ music for Darth Vader or Princess Leia in Star Wars, Verdi and his Ethiopian princess Aida, Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, Bernard Herrmann and his soundtrack for Hitchock’s Vertigo, James Horner’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and so many more.

What do you hear and feel when you listen to certain music? What music lives in your personal memory?

{ 1 comment }

Our interviewee in this story, 57 years old,  is  a self-described “aging hippie and  music junkie.” Recovering from  substance abuse over the course of some seven years, he has found new serenity and joy, thanks to the grounding and centering power of certain music.

Although he grew up listening to musicians like Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell, he says he has been drawn lately to  lesser known contemporary women singer-songwriters such as Molly Venter and Cheryl Wheeler.


For him, they are more nurturing than many male composer–more honest and open with their emotions. A vivid example for him is Cheryl Wheeler’s “ARROW”–a bittersweet song about the risks of falling in love:

“I wish I could feel my heartbeat rise and gaze into some gentle warm excited eyes, and give myself as truly as an arrow flies in windless skies.”

YouTube Preview Image

Together with his younger brother, our man has built a bridge to a constituency of female folk-rock musicians and their audience. In 2012 he  started  what has now become an  annual event in his state–”a festival of music, of the women, by the women, and for everyone.” All net proceeds benefit the state Epilepsy Foundation.

Another kind of bridge for him, carrying both personal and inter-generational layers of memory, is The Kennedys’ song “HALF A MILLION MILES”. He recalls attending a performance where he found himself “bawling like a baby, sitting in the audience, crying, out of a feeling of effusive joy, peace, and togetherness.”

This song, by the husband-and-wife duo Pete and Maura Kennedy, is a rich mix of autobiographical resonance and rock ‘n’ roll history. It turns out that after they initially  met in Austin, Texas, they decided for their first date to each drive 500 miles and meet at Buddy Holly’s grave in Lubbock! And you may know, Holly–a pioneer of rock–perished together with Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson in a plane crash, Feb. 3, 1959. This was  when our interviewee was barely two years old.

Follow the words below the video:

YouTube Preview Image

It was a rainy night in Texas, river was running high

Anyone with any sense was inside staying dry

The rain came down like hammered gold and rendered all things new

Like a Colorado overflow down Congress Avenue

Round, round, ten traveling years

Is a mighty long, long while

When the long road stretches out ahead

A half a million miles. 

In a funky rock and roll bar

A man and a woman sat

While the rain poured down with the dim, deep sound

But they paid no mind to that

They talked about the old songs

They wrote one that was new

They sang it to Roy Orbison and Ricky Nelson too

When the sun come up next morning

On the sinners and the saved

A pickup headed down the road toward Buddy Holly’s grave

In the lonesome town of Lubbock, where Buddy’s bones did lay

Their hearts were cut with diamonds on that strange and fateful day


Music and Loss – Songs that Have Helped with Grief

May 28, 2014

“To me, music is one of the things I couldn’t live without. If I were put on a desert island, I would have to have a solar-powered i-Pod.” These are the heartfelt words of a 41-year old woman, who has had more than her share of loss but, thanks to her love of music, has […]

Read the full article →

Music and the Scientific Mind

April 26, 2014

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing an engineer who, at 75, is a model of what it means to be intellectually vigorous and fully engaged as we grow older. He considers himself to be only semi-retired because he continues to be involved in his company’s cutting edge research for the manufacture of battery powered […]

Read the full article →

The Mystery of Music

March 31, 2014

We didn’t personally interview the people we’ll tell you about here, but their stories–in their own words– seem especially appropriate  as we welcome the coming of spring after a long, hard winter. They also highlight the mysterious ability music has to help people survive in dire circumstances.  We just saw a documentary film about Alice […]

Read the full article →