Can a person be addicted to music? Can elements of your personality and functionality be so dependent on rhythm and melody that you need it in order to stay healthy?
I think so.
Music conveys emotion through melody, and a sense of urgency through rhythm. Add lyrics to the mix with all the emotion and ideas that verbal language can convey and you’ve got a mechanism for transmitting attitudes. Sometimes these attitudes can catch on permanently. Other times we need to be reminded through repeated plays, or by seeking out similar music.
If our culture is overstimulated with art, that might mean we have access to a dynamic set of attitudes, perspectives, and sensibilities. Certainly there are plenty of films and articles that try to demonstrate (or convert you to) a certain perspective. So we no longer have to behave or believe as our parents did. We can scope out the cultural landscape and construct ourselves from what appeals to us.
In some cases the message and energy that a certain musician brings to its listeners may alter their life choices—punks and the punk lifestyle is a good example—but even if music doesn’t inform your life choices (and for most of us it probably doesn’t), it may still alter the way you approach tasks, the rhythm of your thoughts and actions, and your emotional state.
Do you ever forget your favourite attitude? I’m almost embarassed to admit it, but it often requires music to remind me of a more fun-loving and assertive part of my own personality. I’ll often feel crappy and disjointed, aimless and grimy, useless and dumb, and I’ll know that this isn’t my ‘regular mode,’ but I just can’t find that piece of myself that can tackle those daily tasks with energy and intelligence; however, if I put on Them Crooked Vultures or some Monster Magnet (the ultimate badasses) then that piece of me wakes up. I can function better. That’s similar to a drug.
I remember a time when I was experiencing extreme rage and frustration for a few months. Everyone around me was always cheerful, so my pent up anger felt weird and I was socially uncomfortable. But when I listened to Slayer (“God Hates Us All”), I found a friend in their aggressive rage! It turned my scowl into a satisfied grin, and my frustration into motivation. It got my blood pumping. Their music and lyrics are so aggressive and funky. I’ve seen an interview with their bassist and singer, Tom Araya, where he said that he gets letters from athletes telling him that Slayer’s music compels them to perform better. It’s a stimulant.
We need rhythm.
We have circadian rhythms and the day-night cycle. We make music to create our own personal rhythms.
In Jon Ronson’s book “Lost at Sea”, he describes how he was allowed to look through Stanley Kubrick’s personal belongings after the director died. Kubrick had tonnes of boxes meticulously organized to the point of OCD. They were full of notes, letters, and research for movies he made, movies that were never made, and other things completely unrelated to movies. Ronson finally decided that the overzealous hoarding was “the rhythm of genius.” A microcosm of the invisible unconscious mind, operating behind the scenes.
We need melody.
When they say “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” maybe they’re talking about the sonic distance between musical notes. In Daniel Levitin’s book “This is your Brain on Music,” he explains that a single musical note conveys zero emotional meaning. That’s why monotone sounds robotic. It’s in the distance between two notes that emotion is communicated. Different cultures will speak in different scales, and their music may have different scales too. That doesn’t mean that we need music in order to feel emotion, but it’s obviously important in communicating emotional meaning when you talk.
You could live a perfectly happy life and you might never understand another person’s particular flavour of pain… if they couldn’t convey it directly with melody. Try listening to Chelsea Wolfe’s song “Halfsleeper” without feeling her tragic, almost masochistic melancholy. So melody can make you sensitive to others’ emotions, and emotional music can give you practice with handling a range of strong emotions.
I’m going to take this to a weird place.
As I was reading about the Higgs Boson I learned that physicists don’t consider subatomic particles to be the kind of mysterious tiny objects that I visualized. Instead, they believe that the smallest fundamental ‘particles’ are just minuscule excitations (vibrations) in weird fields… pre-existing media which stretch across the universe (the Higgs Boson is a particle, an excitation in the Higgs Field, which gives other particles the illusion of mass). So we’re all made of vibrations in a pre-existing medium. Just like sounds are vibrations in the air. From this perspective we’re each similar to a piece of music, and the whole universe is a grand symphony (Is anybody listening?). Following from this, it makes sense that our minds would basically eat music, gaining rhythm and perspective. Nietzsche said that music was the pure expression of the will. It’s certainly a primal experience.
So maybe our bodies don’t need music to survive, although they do benefit physically from the healthy effects of the joy of music, and the habit of incorporating rhythm into our behaviour. But our personalities (those emergent phenomena which rise from our ‘physical’ bodies, like waves on the ocean) are partly constructed from the music we’ve loved and listened to. It stimulates and strengthens our emotions, motivates us, and transmits attitudes. I listen to different music when I’m jogging, driving, writing stories, writing code, cleaning the house. It sets me in the right mode. I hope it’s not a huge emotional problem to say that I often depend on it for the right attitude to perform certain tasks, but as long as I’m not deaf then it shouldn’t be a problem.
With our culture saturated with art, and our selves being the products of that environment, when I say that I’m somewhat addicted to music, I’m sure that I’m not alone.
About the Author
Matt Payne is a self-published author and electronic musician. He lives in Guelph, ON. You can see his work at http://www.pattmayne.com.