Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I've been listening to music all morning while I've been working, which I sometimes can do and sometimes can't. And I've been thinking about the experience of music, and why it appeals so much to us. I guess there are a few notable exceptions, but in general, animals don't seem to enjoy it the way we do (my dogs, in fact, seem downright annoyed whenever I put anything on at home, from Ani DiFranco to Beethoven to bluegrass; they leave the room). Must be a linear thought thing. Or maybe dogs make their own music, and I'm just not in tune.

The thing about music for me is that it's sometimes dangerous--which is why I can't always listen to it. I'm curious about your experience of music too. I'll get to that.

Let's see if I can explain "dangerous." I let emotion control me more than I ought to--because I don't know how not to. I don't know if I feel things harder than the people around me, or if they've somehow developed better ways to quash what they're feeling than I have, or if they just know how to not show it, if it's some combination of these, but, let's just say, it makes me feel alienated most of the time. Or rather, I let it make me feel that way, when I really just don't know if it's all in my head or what.

For instance, I usually feel a great need to get the hell out of the office at least once during the day, preferably for as long as possible. I don't know a single other person at this office who goes on four-mile walks during lunch. The most anyone else does is about two miles, and that's the exception rather than the rule, and it's generally to get food at some place downtown. While I do like to get exercise for the sake of staying healthy, that's not why I go on these walks. I go on them because I have to if I'm going to get through the rest of my day without some sort of pressure clamp popping in my noggin. Mental restlessness = a buildup of emotion = the inability to do my geek-related toiling in obscurity thing at my desk, here. If I tire my body out some, and let my brain rove over and through whatever topics and emotions it needs to while my feet move me, I can handle the rest of the day better (i.e., I feel less pointless, less directionless, less...crappy). (Of course this effect wears off in a couple hours, but sometimes that's all I need.)

So. After twenty-eight years of being an emotional basket case, I've learned a few techniques for hiding it from my fellow bipeds, and a few techniques to wear it off some so it's not such a struggle to hide it. But listening to music is kind of like playing with fire. When I listen, all the colors and flavors of mood that I'm feeling throughout the day start having a lot more substance--and they wind up attaching themselves to memories of times when I've had those same emotions and moods in the past, which means, I sit at my desk proofreading and listening to Royksopp and suddenly instead of being at my desk, I'm in the deep end of the pool playing sharks and minnows with a bunch of other ten-year-old kids and wishing, again, that I felt like I belonged in the place where I was. Or I'm standing on the train tracks as an eight-year-old in the bad part of town my grandparents lived in, and it's cold and the sky is gray and the tracks are brown and the smell of their metal is sticking in my throat and I feel like the gravel on the ground is in my heart and stomach, and there's a kid a few houses away in a tired, small yard blanketed in dead grass and car parts and he's yelling at me and I want to be away from there but there's nowhere else to go.

It makes it hard to keep my mind on my job. It's not the words of what I'm listening to that do it, it's the combination of sounds that's layered together to make what we call "music," which in a lot of cases in my body takes on the same meaning as the word "mood." And a mood isn't just something I feel, it's something I taste and inhale, too--it has a color, a substance. This isn't always bad--sometimes it's overwhelmingly joyous, which is in fact more difficult to contain than when it's overwhelmingly sad or painful.

But. The fact is, it can cross into "overwhelmingly" more often than I want it to. So I have to watch it, with the music.

And I'm wondering if this is what music is like for everyone. People listen to music because they like it (they must, or else why would they do it voluntarily?)--but why do we like it? Is it because it makes us feel feelings stronger? And, for most people, that's kind of nice, but for me, it's not always nice because I don't handle it very well?

Why do you listen to music? Why do you like it? What do you like about the artists you like? The lyrics? The total sound? The mood? The way it makes you feel? How it distracts you? How it focuses you?


At December 14, 2005 7:24 PM, Blogger HM said...

Ahh music, who could really explain that one? For me it's all about what I want it to do at any particular moment. It can either focus or distract me, get me out of a bad mood or let me brood in one, or just, like you were talking about, take me to some completely different place and time in life (if it's the right song). Most of the time it's my choice what it does for me.

I think people can't stay away from music for all those reasons. It's almost like magic. But that's just my humble opinion.

At December 14, 2005 7:41 PM, Blogger Raehan said...

Music is so personal and brings back memories.

Yes. Yes. What else is there to say. I think the music is more important to me than the lyric, but having both is great.

You are an artist to your very core. Sometimes miserable sometimes not.

I love that about you. Not the miserable part. The artist in you.

At December 14, 2005 10:44 PM, Blogger Hu said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At December 15, 2005 12:31 AM, Blogger suleyman said...

I can't give you a concise answer. In fact, I'll write a post about it next time I can sit down and think about it for a while.

Songs are just these concentrated packets of emotion. But even that doesn't really do it justice.

I'll have to think/feel about it.


At December 15, 2005 2:48 AM, Blogger Seren said...

This is a great question and requires an adequate response. For me, that means I will think about this and post after I listen to Testosterone Detox (see

Right now, all I can say is thanks for linking to Royksopp. I had never heard them before. I felt transported.

Your words on music and feelings make total sense to me. One of my largest fears is that I've either squashed my own feelings or I never had them in the first place.

I take walks over lunch for many of the same reasons you do and have only been able to describe music as an emotional thing.

Let me form my thoughts better, get some rest, and post about it.

At December 15, 2005 12:38 PM, Blogger Tay Hota said...

great post.. music is such a fascinating peice of life.. I've never met someone who just doesn't like music... of course there are levels of interest, from background noise (refrigerator buss, Thom York called it once) to the most passionate, the performers... some of the music I listen to is meant to set my frame of mind, some madonna before I go out, or some beatles/ fugazi/ slayer for pure retrospection... some of it just excites me and creates new feelings/ some brings me back to particular times in my life.... love it... what else can you say of that for?

At December 15, 2005 6:22 PM, Blogger Sangroncito said...

Music turns a black and white day into a technocolored one.

At December 15, 2005 10:14 PM, Blogger The Great Saphenous said...

I listen to music to pique my imagination. When I listen to the kind of music that interests me (mostly electronic, as you know), I can close my eyes and picture some kind of rhythmic, mechanical image that looks like the notes incarnate. It's sort of like a screen saver for my brain. Even when my eyes aren't closed, if the music is good, it still sets my mind to a beat and completely removes me from the rest of the world. Without music, my mind is a ringing buzzer, but with it, it's a metronome. In a way, music both distracts me and focuses me.

I actually prefer instrumental music, or at least music without lyrics. Words mixed in with the music tend to distract me, like there's a buzzer sounding over a metronome.

I tend to pick music based on the world around me, rather than on my own mood. On my iPod, I actually have playlists dedicated purely to night, sunrise, sunset, sunny day, overcast day, rainy day, snowy day, and a bunch of other conditions.

At December 16, 2005 1:35 AM, Blogger Jenelle said...

Music actually helps me when I work. IfI don't have something to sing along to, I find myself sullen and too lost in my own thoughts. It gets me out of my own head.

I like the fact that when I listen to Pink Floyd I can transport myself back in time to a dingy basement where bodies were draped over the couches like afgans. I can see the haze and feel the nothingness that accopmanied the environment...The drug induced days.

Or a song like Don Henley's "Boys Of Summer" reminds me of the time I was riding in a convertible with the top down. I can feel the wind in my hair and can see the scenery of the road flashing before me.

Music is so powerful that it can literally transport me to a different time. The song could be upbeat but it reminds me of a guy that I broke up with, or maybe the words are sad but I can remember a good time I had while listeneng to it. I do not know what my life would be like without misic...Black and white I suppose...

At December 16, 2005 2:53 AM, Blogger Adeline said...

I struggle to keep emotion in check as well. These days it's more rage than tears. I don't have good tools except to stuff it or postpone it. It all comes out eventually, but the biggest problem I have is dealing with white male authority figures when i am really upset about something. it doesnt happen very often like maybe annually? but then i want to rip their heads off and play soccer with it. naturally this goes over like a turd in the punch bowl.

when i paid too much for my mp3 player, and then i used it all the time i realized that music probably wasnt ever going to go away as this great therapeutic/motivational tool for me. I use it mostly when i am on my 3 keep my pace up. on the rotation is a heavy dose of agro tunes like pixies and ramones. this sounds stupid, but it makes me feel stronger and able to deal with things that start to get to me. it also makes me feel younger.

At December 16, 2005 8:06 AM, Blogger Christian said...

Embrace the music and let it pull you along the emotions you have. Emotions are not bad things. I'm put together emotionally exactly like you, it sounds like, and music (and walking 8 miles a day) are my saving graces. As a writer, I found that the combination of music, walking, and WRITING everything in a journal goes a long way to keep my head from exploding, which is what it feels like sometimes when emotions threaten to overrun me. But I never want to "quash" them, for they make me who I am: a sensitive, feeling, human. Not a 'bot.

At December 16, 2005 11:40 AM, Blogger Philip said...

Love the new look, love the background, love the "marriage is love..."

Okay as far as music goes, it can be many things to me: background filler, inspiration, "keep part of brain occupied while other part focuses for much longer stretch on creative pursuits," or simply fun.

Music touches strange emotional triggers in us, it's very powerful.

At December 16, 2005 10:49 PM, Blogger Indigo said...

I listen to music to motivate me, like while I'm running, I have to listen to music. It keeps me going. But, all the rest of the time, I prefer to listen to talk radio (or lately it's podcasts). I get tired of the music after awhile.

At December 17, 2005 2:15 PM, Anonymous Alison said...

I grew up in a home where music was playing somewhere, all the time.

Sometimes I want silence, but after a while I'll feel like something is missing, and I'll turn on the music.

I need it.

At December 17, 2005 9:48 PM, Blogger Mr. H.K. said...

I usually have silence when I'm at home... Not tht I don't love music. But I like it quiet when I relax...

Maybe because the cacophony that is New York City is playing so loudly in my head all day. When I get home, I like: nothing...


Mr. H.K.
Postcards from Hell's

And I Quote Blog

At December 19, 2005 2:05 AM, Blogger Seren said...

I tried responding to your questions. I knew it wasn't something I could wrap up in a few lines as a comment here, so I made a post of it.

At December 22, 2005 9:16 AM, Blogger boybooshka said...

Really identified with your comments in this post, about emotion overpowering you and having to quieten it in someway. Like you music often drags me to even stronger emotion, but often it will console my moods and make the emotion easier to deal with. Books films and art can do this for me too, i guess they help me realise that i'm not isolated in my intense moods, that there are other people feeling similar.

Clearly then it's generally the mood of a piece of music that effects me most, rather than lyrics specifically, although there are lyrics that effect me deeply, i also have songs i love that i don't particularly know the lyrics to.

At December 22, 2005 11:02 PM, Blogger BG said...

About the music that means something to me:
I like it and I listen to it because it usually reminds me of something I've lived, some place I've been, or someone important to me.
The songs that stick to me are the ones that I happen to listen for the first time in a moment that stuck in my mind for one reason or another.
For example, there's this one CD "Wow 2000" that reminds me of Costa Rica and all I lived while I visited the country. Listening to that production takes me back to some moments I enjoyed, to some places I saw, to some smells that I would recognize now (years later), to things that left a mark in my heart.
If I listen to music that means something to me (like I say above) then I can't focus, because my mind goes flying back to those experiences.
On the other hand, with music that doesn't really mean much to me I work better. I paint really well with music I like... what happens then (specially if I do that when painting at the studio on my own) those songs become part of that "moment I was painting and I was enjoying myself"...
so it all comes full cycle :)

I wanted to reply to this post of yours before... I don't know why I didn't.


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