It’s worth paying attention to what type of music we listen to.
“Where words fail, music speaks.”
~ Hans Christian Andersen
Growing up through my twenties, I mostly only listened to one band over and over again. That band was headed by a guy called Conor Oberst and it was called Bright Eyes.
A lot of people considered Bright Eyes “emo” music. And he was very emotive, but he was different from the rest of the emo genre in a big way: he was uplifting. There was hope in his music. Not to mention, he’d been called his generation’s Bob Dylan because of his songwriting skill.
Here’s one example out of pretty much any song I could choose:
The Bible’s blind, the Torah’s deaf, the Qu’ran is mute
If you burned them all together, you’d get close to the truth, still
They’re pouring over Sanskrit under Ivy League moons
While shadows lengthen in the sun
Here’s another one:
I had a lengthy discussion about The Power of Myth
With a post-modern author who didn’t exist
In this fictitious world all reality twists
I was a hopeless romantic, now I’m just turning tricks
I mean, what the fuck. How good is this guy?
There used to be a Facebook group called Conor Oberst has more talent in his little finger than I do in my entire body.
There was also one called Conor Oberst is my boyfriend.
I joined both.
Actually, I did more than that — I wore a shirt that said “Conor Oberst is my boyfriend” to a festival once. It got mixed reviews.
And sure, his voice was often quivering. He often sang like he was scared to sing, but that’s part of what touched me so deeply about him: his vulnerability and rawness. And even though a lot of other people found him depressing, I didn’t. I saw past the quivering fragility and saw the fervent spirit inside him.
The same goes for Leonard Cohen. Yeah, it’s sometimes sad music, but it’s the beautiful kind of sad.
Not just sad for sad’s sake, but sad for honesty’s sake.
I recently heard about a study on death metal music. Now, I’ve never been a fan of death metal at all; I don’t really understand how people could enjoy listening to that type of music. All I hear is rage and anger — things I don’t generally want to feel.
But the fascinating thing about this study was that people who reported liking death metal said they didn’t feel rage or anger when listening to it — they felt peace and joy.
Peace and joy while listening to someone scream like the devil?
I think we love music because it evokes emotions in us that are otherwise unexpressed. And music is a very healthy way to do that. So I’m not against death metal or its fans, because I now understand something else— it’s coming from a place of truth for them.
It’s easy to get trapped.
It’s easy to just have that one type of music that you listen to all the time — even when it doesn’t really echo what you’re feeling inside.
I’m sure death metal fans don’t want to hear the devil’s voice every minute of the day, just like I don’t want to hear Conor Oberst’s voice every minute of the day. Sometimes I actually prefer silence to music, but it changes all the time.
And so should our music — so it accurately reflects what we’re feeling in that moment, and so we don’t get stuck in a set pattern of feeling because we just always happen to have the same playlist on repeat.
This is why I have now broadly expanded the types of music I listen to.
I’m still not a fan of death metal, but I now appreciate where it’s coming from. And my musical tastes over the years have expanded tremendously: it used to be just sad, beautiful songwriters, but now it’s everything from Rudimental, to Kali Uchis, to even some chill EDM.
(Okay, I guess my taste hasn’t changed THAT much.)
(But it’s still constantly expanding.)
The point I’m trying to make is this: I think music has a more powerful influence on our emotional states than we realize. And because of that, I think we should try and be more conscious of those emotional states when we’re listening to music (or when we’re in silence), so that we’re not reinforcing an emotion we don’t want, but so we’re also not avoiding an emotion that is there and needs to be expressed, lest it comes out in unhealthy ways.
As John Cusack asked in the movie “High Fidelity” —
(Yes. Yes, I know it was a book first. I’ve even read it. Bite me.)
“Did I listen to pop music because I was depressed, or was I depressed because I listened to pop music?”
I think the answer is a little bit of both, John.
My advice is: listen to what speaks to your soul, whatever that is, at any point, but just try to not get stuck there.
Which brings my final point: high vibrational music.
By high vibrational music I mean any music that is positive and inspiring lyrically, or is even just musically uplifting as opposed to depressing or saddening.
So I’m now on the look-out for music that’s positive and inspiring and that matches where I’m at in my life right now. There are a few I’ve found: the self-titled Radnor and Lee album (which is so good I wrote a whole post on it), Rudimental, Jewel, and a few tracks here and there that I really resonate with. I’ve also liked an album called Known Odyssey, which has some beautiful piano compositions and is a little bit more new-agey but it’s growing on me.
(I’m still only on the beginning of the journey in finding high vibrational music though, so if you have any suggestions please let me know in the comments.)
As a final note, I think it’s also important to remember, even with all this talk of sound and music, that silence itself is the most powerful sound you’ll never hear, and can do wonders for our mental health.
Or, as in The Simpsons when Lisa is at a jazz bar and the patron next to her says, “Hmm, sounds like she’s hitting a baby with a cat.”
And Lisa says: “You have to listen to the notes she’s not playing.”
And the patron replies: “Pfft, I could do that at home.”