Monday, 26 November 2012

I've Broken Up with Music

I'm a really clever guy.

When I'm writing about stuff 'in my ballpark'.  And since this is my blog, I have the luxury of sticking to that category.  So you all stay totally impressed. 

Right?  RIGHT?

But not today, because a weird thing happened to me the other day.

As you may have guessed by my last post, I'm experiencing stress these days.  And usually, when I drive in my truck, I listen to interviews with thought leaders who talk about the things they... lead... thought... in.  But when I'm stressed out, learning goes out the window.  So I switched it to the radio.

And then a song came on.  And I did something really uncomfortable.

I... felt...

When the song was done, I turned off the radio, and as I left the car, I felt a little cheap, like someone had just busted into my head and rearranged the furniture without my permission.  I actually found myself resenting the song for making me identify with it.

Which is weird for me, because I used to play guitar and sing in church, like all the time, and music was a huge part of my life in college and high school.  And now, I find myself feeling like it's for the weak.

Here's the best I can describe it:  I spend a lot of time working on my mental space.  Thinking positively, believing that bad luck is a golden learning opportunity, and that I can create (most of) the circumstances that will lead to my continued improvement and success as a human being.

And then that song came on the radio.  And it managed to get backstage and whisper a couple haunting words to the superstar right before the big performance.

I can't figure out if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Here's why: I am a hard worker.  And the way to get to the next step is not to sit back and let a song make you feel bad.  It's to put your head down, and work your ass off till you hit the next smooth patch and you can let off the pedals a bit.

Don't get me wrong.  This isn't a denial thing.  It's a persistence and inner strength thing.  I'm fully willing to acknowledge that hard stuff is hard.  But feeling bad is a waste of energy, right?  It is what it is, so deal with it.  Right?

Yet ever since this happened on Sunday, I've been kind of haunted by it.  Help me, friends.

What is music's role in this stuff?  I don't want to just sit around and mope.  What's to be gained from listening to a song that describes your negative state?  Can music be restorative?  That's a lot to ask!  People pay a lot more for cognitive behavioural therapy than they do for an iTunes download for a reason.

I was totally caught off guard by my reaction to that song.  I felt like it busted me feeling a way I wasn't 'supposed' to be feeling.  I want to hear your take on it.  Is music for the strong, or the weak?  Is it an escape, or is it edifying?  Of course there's good and bad.  But is there a role for it in all this?  Or is it a way that we let ourselves off the hook by giving our emotions some instant gratification?

Please comment below.


  1. I think it depends on your purpose for listening to music - if you're using it to feel sappy and stuck in the same place, sulking and listening to the same song over and over. HOWEVER, if people are choosing not to listen to music to avoid emotions, that's not a good thing either. There's something rich about being tapped into our emotions, and having things about us revealed in ways we weren't expecting.
    So - both?

  2. You've opened up a real can o' worms here Dan. I like worms, so that's good for me right?

    I've been involved with music my whole life (as a hack, a student, a pro and now a teacher). Needless to say, music has taken a large portion of my life and here's my thoughts.
    *end note*

    Music for me is reflective, it helps me zone in on exactly how I'm feeling, exactly where I'm going. It helps me return to my "centre", where I can channel negative energy into positive and move forward.

    As for your question of "What's to be gained from listening to a song that describes your negative state?" here goes something:

    One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Carl Sagan "You have to know the past to understand the present". Meaning, we have to understand how we got here to know where "here" really is.
    But to this, I add "and to understand the present is a path to the future"
    To me, I feel we need to truly understand the issues, let them boil to the surface and learn learn learn before any good work can be done.
    Case in point - I don't fix engines because I don't know how. If I wanted to, I'd have to learn - this is what we call common sense. Shouldn't it apply to emotions and feelings as well?

    If music forces us to introspect and truly learn what we are feeling (remember, we don't know what we don't know), then music is a good thing; Sometimes we have to hear it from an outward source.


    Music is art, it portrays the emotions of the artist from the depths of their soul (providing they they have one). It's meant to raise our eyebrows and stir the emotional pot if you will, not unlike other mediums of art including speech (which is used quite well by thought leaders to create emotions within words).

  3. Posted before concluding...

    Art raises emotion, it's what it does. Anything that causes us to feel something, is good. Feeling something is the first start to understanding and being a human; if we characterize one form of art as weak, we are harming the individuals who rely on it.

    Imagine a world where sculpture and painting was characterized as weak, would we have the Sistine Chapel? Michelangelo's David? The design of your truck? The architecture of your home?

    I could go on forever, but here goes:

    By asking if music is weak, you are projecting that negative feeling onto yourself for listening to the radio as it had a different effect on you than speech; different art will effect us in different ways.

    Enjoy the feeling of feeling, understand those emotions, and move forward with renewed energy.

  4. I guess music is amoral. If I'm being totally honest, music has also been instrumental in a lot of recovery for me.

    There is good, beautiful, edifying music that improves you by wicking out the beauty in you as you listen to it.

    Then there is dangerous music, that insidiously feeds the negative side of you, by justifying, enabling, and just plain encouraging the wrong kinds of choices and behaviour.

  5. You've landed on a thought I had just over a year ago. I responded with a poem:

    I spend a lot of time in my head too, and I generally tend to be pretty stoic. But odd things cut through, and I feel shaken and unsettled. I've grown to appreciate that.

    A good song is like any good story: it reflects back to what you need to tune into.

    I don't know what wrong choices it's leading you to make, and that would change what I say about it. But let me let you in on another conversation I had recently. I was sharing that gut-level stuff like Radiohead and Dave Matthews Band gets me in a way that no worship music ever has. And he went totally the opposite. And we looked at each other with fascinated curiosity, because we had arrived at the same place.

    Art breaks you where you need to be broken, and heals wounds you didn't even know you had.