Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Music Hath Charms

Music hath charms
to soothe a savage breast
To soften rocks,
or bend a knotted oak.
-- William Congreve
"The Mourning Bride"

I told my son that I was writing a blog post about how music helps to pick you up when you’re down and he immediately told me the two songs that he has been listening to lately that help him feel good: “Panda” by Desiigner and "My Way" by Calvin Harris. My wife likes to listen to the blues when she's feeling blue. I usually require something with crunching guitars, pounding drums and played at eleven on the volume dial. I require music strong enough to smash angst. I’ve had some tough days recently -- as evidenced by my last two blog posts (Natural Born Loner and Mr. Lonely) – but music has always been my saving grace. My port of safety in this raging storm called life.

A week ago I was in such state of sorrow that only blistering punk rock could soothe me. The album that did the trick was “The Body, The Blood and The Machine” by The Thermals. This is the third album by this trio from the Pacific Northwest. The album targets religion and its sheepish followers with smart lyrics and powers chords. After two days in hell, listening to The Thermals managed to cool the flames. Sometimes it’s the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and at other times the Foo Fighters battle my blues, but music has always been there for me and – if I don’t go deaf – it always will be.

The healing power of music has been well-documented. There are wonderful books out there on music and the brain by authors such as Daniel Levitin, Oliver Sacks and John Powell. There is no doubt that music has a powerful effect on our brains. Watch the documentary “Alive Inside,” which is about the Music and Memory organization. See how songs from someone’s past light up parts of their brains that haven’t been activated in years. They sing and dance. They tell stories from their youth. Musical memories are especially effective with Alzheimer patients. I’m sure we all have a song or two that prompt special memories, and cause us to wax nostalgic when they are played.

Without music, the audible world would be pretty dull. There is the music of the spheres and the sounds of the forest -- babbling brooks and birdsong -- but music is the masterwork of the human race, and it wasn’t even invented. It grew organically into the universal language that it is. We sent the Voyager spacecraft to the outer galaxy with a gold record onboard, in a primitive attempt to communicate with alien species. As was once predicted on Saturday Night Live in 1977, they only wanted more Chuck Berry.

I once heard it said that when someone reaches their thirties, their musical tastes are pretty much set. Not me. I love hearing new music. In fact, The Thermals were introduced to me by J.J., my young co-worker at the bookstore. He has also turned me on to bands such as Smith Westerns, Blitzen Trapper and Car Seat Headrest. Some people only like country music or classical. I like any music as long as it's got a good beat and you can dance to it. Or it moves you to tears. Or if you can sing along. I like any music as long as it’s good. Good music may be in the ear of the beholder, but bad music is bad to the bone. Perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly defining good music. But I know it when I hear it.

I listened to Bruno Mars: “Unorthodox Jukebox,”  Coldplay: “Live 2012,” and Car Seat Headrest: “Teens of Style,” while finishing this post tonight.

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Here are a couple of music videos, including my son's recent favorite, "Panda" by Desiigner and a song by The Thermals off the album "The Body, The Blood, and The Machine."

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