Clive Wearing

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Clive Wearing
Born (1938-05-11) 11 May 1938 (age 82)
United Kingdom
GenresEarly music
Occupation(s)Musicologist, conductor and keyboardist

Clive Wearing (born 11 May 1938) is a British former musicologist, conductor, tenor and keyboardist who suffers from chronic anterograde and retrograde amnesia. He lacks the ability to form new memories, and also cannot recall aspects of his past memories, frequently believing that he has only recently awoken from a comatose state. In educational psychology contexts, Wearing's dual retrograde-anterograde amnesia phenomenon is often referred to as "30-second Clive" in reference to his 30-second episodic memory capacity.[citation needed]

Musical career[edit]

Clive Wearing is an accomplished musician, and is known for editing the works of Orlande de Lassus. Wearing sang at Westminster Cathedral as a tenor lay clerk for many years and also had a successful career as a chorus master and worked as such at Covent Garden and with the London Sinfonietta Chorus.

In 1968, he founded the Europa Singers of London, an amateur choir specialising in music of the 17th, 18th, and 20th centuries. It won critical approval especially for performances of the Monteverdi Vespers. In 1977, it gave the first performance in the Russian Cathedral of Sir John Tavener's setting of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with Roderick Earle as bass soloist, and subsequently made a recording (Ikon Records No. 9007). The Europa Singers also competed in the XXXII Concorso Polifonico Internazionale in Arezzo in 1984, and provided choruses for operas staged by the London Opera Centre, including Lully's Alceste and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, which was performed at Sadler's Wells.

Wearing also organised The London Lassus Ensemble, designing and staging the 1982 London Lassus Festival to commemorate the composer's 450th Anniversary.

Whilst working at the BBC, Wearing was made responsible for the musical content of BBC Radio 3 for much of 29 July 1981, the day of the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. For that occasion, he chose to recreate, with authentic instruments and meticulously researched scores, the Bavarian royal wedding which took place in Munich on 22 February 1568. The music by Lassus, Padovano, de'Bardi, Palestrina, Gabrieli, Tallis, etc., was performed by the Taverner Consort, Choir and Players, and the Natural Trumpet Ensemble of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, conducted by Andrew Parrott.


On 27 March 1985, Wearing, then an acknowledged expert in early music at the height of his career with BBC Radio 3, contracted herpesviral encephalitis, a herpes simplex virus that attacked his central nervous system.[1] Since this point, he has been unable to store new memories. He has also been unable to associate memories effectively, or to control his emotions, exhibiting unstable moods.

Wearing developed a profound case of total amnesia as a result of his illness. Because of damage to the hippocampus, an area required to transfer memories from short-term to long-term memory, he is completely unable to form lasting new memories – his memory only lasts between 7 and 30 seconds.[2] He spends every day "waking up" every 20 seconds, "restarting" his consciousness once the time span of his short term memory elapses (about 30 seconds). During this time, he repeatedly questions why he has not seen a doctor, as he constantly believes he has only recently awoken from a comatose state. If engaged in discussion, Wearing is able to provide answers to questions, but cannot stay in the flow of conversation for longer than a few sentences and is angered if asked about his current situation.

Wearing remembers little of his life before 1985; he knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but cannot remember their names. His love for his second wife, Deborah, whom he married the year prior to his illness, is undiminished. He greets her joyously every time they meet, either believing he has not seen her in years or that they have never met before, even though she may have just left the room momentarily. When he goes out dining with his wife, he can remember the name of the food (e.g. chicken); however he cannot link it with taste, as he forgets what food he is eating by the time it has reached his mouth.[3]

In a diary provided by his caretakers, Wearing was encouraged to record his thoughts. Page after page is filled with entries similar to the following:

8:31 AM: Now I am really, completely awake.
9:06 AM: Now I am perfectly, overwhelmingly awake.
9:34 AM: Now I am superlatively, actually awake.

Earlier entries are usually crossed out, since he forgets having made an entry within minutes and dismisses the writings: he does not know how the entries were made or by whom, although he does recognise his own writing.[4] Wishing to record "waking up for the first time", he still wrote diary entries in 2007, more than two decades after he started them.

Wearing can learn new practices and even a very few facts—not from episodic memory or encoding, but by acquiring new procedural memories through repetition. For example, having watched a certain video recording multiple times on successive days, he never had any memory of ever seeing the video or knowing the contents, but he was able to anticipate certain parts of the content without remembering how he learned them.[5]

Despite having no memory of specific musical pieces when mentioned by name and an extremely limited recall of his previous musical knowledge, Wearing remains capable of playing complex piano and organ pieces, sight-reading, and conducting a choir.[6]


Wearing's wife Deborah has written a book about her husband's case entitled Forever Today.[7]

His story was told in a 1986 documentary entitled Equinox: Prisoner of Consciousness, in which he was interviewed by Jonathan Miller. An updated story was told in the 2005 ITV documentary The Man with the 7 Second Memory (although Wearing's short term memory span can be up to 30 seconds).

He was also featured in the 1988 PBS series, The Mind, in Episode 1, In Search of the Mind.

He also appears in the 2006 documentary series Time, where his case is used to illustrate the effect of losing one's perception of time.

His story was also told in episode No. 304 – "Memory and Forgetting" on the show Radio Lab on New York Public Radio, WNYC.[8]

He appears in Dr. Eric Kandel's holiday lectures on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.[9]

Oliver Sacks wrote about Wearing in a chapter in his 2007 book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and an article in The New Yorker titled "The Abyss".[6]

Sam Kean also discussed Wearing's life in the twelfth chapter of his 2014 book, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons.[10]

Wearing's story was also featured on an episode of the TLC series Medical Incredible.

See also[edit]

Other neurological trauma/damage cases[edit]

Other areas[edit]


  1. ^ Wearing, Deborah (12 January 2005). "The man who keeps falling in love with his wife". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  2. ^ "Video on Demand - The Mind: Teaching Modules - Clive Wearing, Part 2: Living Without Memory". Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  3. ^ BBC
  4. ^ The Mind, BBC series, Part 1
  5. ^ The Mind, BBC series, Part 2
  6. ^ a b Sacks, Oliver (17 September 2007). "The Abyss". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  7. ^ Wearing, Deborah (2005). Forever today: a memoir of love and amnesia. Corgi. ISBN 0-552-77169-4.
  8. ^ "Radiolab | WNYC Studios | Podcasts". wnycstudios. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  9. ^ "Neuroscience | HHMI BioInteractive". Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  10. ^ MacGowan, James (27 May 2014). "The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean: review". Toronto Star. Retrieved 28 April 2018.

External links[edit]