In 2006, Ian Murphy was in a near-fatal car crash, colliding with a truck and damaging his brain. He was 21 years old then.
Now, at 30, he has trouble with short-term memory. He forgets people’s names, but he can hear a new song and remember it the next day. He doesn’t remember what he did or whom he saw on a given day, or sometimes five minutes ago, but he sings the music he remembers without hesitation.
Before the accident, he was a singer, fronting a rock band while attending high school in Indiana. He enjoyed singing the likes of Switchfoot, Third Eye Blind, and Nick Drake. Now, he said listening to music, especially music from before the car accident, stimulates his memory more so than anything else.
“Takes me back to the place of where I used to hear that song,” he said. “And that’s good for me because I want to be back there.”
And “back there” is the time when he had plans to get engaged to his girl and graduate from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, both of which he ended up doing but later and differently than he’d planned.
But today, it’s rare that he can dig up a short-term memory.
On one occasion, he heard a pop song called “Shut Up And Dance With Me” by Walk The Moon. Later that day, he recalled it without prompting and without hearing it again. That’s uncommon for him.
Music had been right alongside him as he worked hard to progress from comatose, to awakening, to speaking, to singing, and to walking. Music is still a part of his life, which now involves a bit of fame. He and his wife ended up being one of the feature stories in Oprah Winfrey’s Belief series and making an appearance on Dr. Phil’s TV show.
So what if Ian didn’t have music?
“I’d die of boredom,” Murphy said. “I think that describes the health of my brain. I would die and take my brain with me.”
Maybe he’s striving for a life that used to be, and maybe music transports him there while his body just waits to follow.
Maybe music is his time machine.