Music and Me

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” 

These are the words of acclaimed neurologist Oliver Sacks whose book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain was the tome I checked out of the library today. Not because I think I’m prone to musicophilia, but because I’m….well, not.

Musicophilia is a term coined by Dr. Sacks and used by him to refer to the uplifting effect that music has on most people. It can also be described as an obsession with or spiritual connection to music. Whether it is interpreted for its extreme or simplistic meaning, many folks believe that musicophilia applies to everyone in some way, but this is not necessarily true. Some people find music to be superfluous; irritating even. For whatever reason, they simply cannot enjoy it. Luckily Dr Sacks references individuals who had previously maintained an apathetic disposition towards music and then experienced a shift in behavior, ultimately acquiring musicophilia over time.

I’m hoping to be one of these anomalies. You see, right now I don’t listen to much music at all–a sin I recently confessed to the high priest of the Church of Music, Stefan.

I think the lack of music in my life is less a symptom of derangement and more a quirk that can be attributed to the glut of literature that presides over most of my days. I’m a bibliophile. At any given time there is a stack of books on my desk and another one on my nightstand (each at least four volumes deep) waiting to be read. Most of the time I’m a chapter or two into each one–the words and ideas and thoughts and philosophies of a thousand conflicting minds–taking up space and residence in my already-addled brain. Not to mention all the blog posts I read each morning. And the news websites. And the pile of New Yorkers staring at me from a basket in the bathroom. And Twitter.

I’m not saying that literature isn’t soulful and good (and utterly necessary), but there are only so many words and poems that one can gorge one’s self with at a time. My particular fondness is the pasta/carbohydrate load of the literary world: the poetry of brilliant, depressed and very pissed-off women (Anne, Virginia, Sylvia, Adrienne)–a diet that, if not diluted with something a little less concentrated, can leave a person feeling bloated and miserable. And not at all ready to write or for create one’s self.

After I offered my confession to Stefan he reacted in kind, like all good clergymen are wont to do. He did not punish me, not this time anyway, but absolved me of my sins and assigned appropriate penance in the form of eight iTunes links, which I have been faithfully listening to each morning–instead of the monotonous blogs. There’s some good stuff in there–the scent of hope and inspiration–riding in on this new (to me) and heady music. It’s something I’m not ready to talk about yet, but it’s the soundtrack that I have running right now, in the background, as I’m writing this post.

That said, there are a few songs that my family Here loves. I’ve included a song (or two) from each of us in the links below. Songs that we reach for when we’re feeling any kind of strong emotion–high or low. (Musicophilia status, here I come.)


For me, and my limited appreciation of music, Bruce Springsteen is God and his concerts are Church and this song is the prayer that I recite on the high holidays. It is also a tune that has accompanied me through more breakups and friendship wrecks than I can count.

Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road


But if Bruce is God, then Dar is the power behind the throne. She lives up the street from us and one of her albums is called: My Better Self. We’re fucking soul mates. It’s impossible for me to choose one song of hers as a favorite (The Hudson was my first love and can, in certain moments, take the breath out of me), but here’s the one that makes me weep:

Dar Williams, Mercy for the Fallen


For Ray, it’s Sly & the Family Stone, a groovy band that he listened to with his family when he was a wild child in Baltimore, MD. This particular song, and its particular message, is one that I know he reaches for (and plays in his office) when vendors are slow to answer or interns are difficult to get in touch with or there are bills to be paid.

Sly & the Family Stone, Thank You

Noah is 11 so his taste in music is pretty much focused on Top 40 hits. (He likes Bruce, too, because I’ve forced him to.) I’m not sure how that happens–we listen to very little Top 40 radio in this house–but it does. This song is ubiquitous right now. And great. (And, seriously? 123 million hits on this video?)

Pharrell Williams, Happy

Also, this one. (Especially when he misses Zo):

Michael Jackson, Smooth Criminal




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