Feeling the power in music

Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I believe in the healing and redemptive power of music. I broke up with a girlfriend when I was in graduate school. OK, I got dumped and I was deeply depressed for, like, six months. It was hard to get out of bed in the morning, and so I would play a little game and force myself to think of one reason why it was worth living every day. Invariably, the answer was music. Id say to myself, If I jump off the top of my apartment building not only wont I get my security deposit back, but Ill never get to hear Neil Young play a guitar solo ever again.

Other mornings the answer was the drumming of The Whos Keith Moon. And still other days it was an entire album, by groups like Radiohead, or this band Jellyfish, who I listened to over and over again for answers when I was at my saddest.

My CDs provided me with such tremendous support, companionship, and counseling during those dark days. Think about it: The greatest storehouse of knowledge on the subject of love and human relations resides in the body of popular music. Nowhere else has experience on this central aspect of our lives been recorded in such compulsive detail. Whatever the issue-lust, temptation, broken hearts-its been dissected and cataloged in popular song. Lets Stay Together pleads the Reverend Al Green; I Cant Make You Love Me, mourns Bonnie Raitt; and theres No Distance Left to Run concedes the British group Blur. It helped so much to know that I wasnt alone; that others had been down that path and had come out on the other side. Better still, had taken all their grief and confusion and hewn works of art from it. Had chosen creation over destruction. Life over death. I followed their example and soon was listening to happier songs again.

I can think of so many other instances when Ive turned to music for meaning and understanding. I remember listening to Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads religiously in the days before leaving for my freshman year at college. Something about those schizophrenic lyrics crystallized all the fear and exhilaration I was feeling at the thought of moving out on my own for the first time. I remember all those mix tapes I made for girls in high school-why bother to say how you really feel when Prince and James Brown are so much more eloquent? And I remember going out to purchase Bob Dylans newest album, Love & Theft, on 9/11, which, for some reason, was the most patriotic thing I could think to do on that awful day.

Some people go to therapy; I go to the record store. Some people keep old photos; I keep my old records and tapes. Some people go to church; I put on my headphones. Clutched within the tender embrace of my left and right earpieces is where I have always found spirituality, truth, and community.

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