Updated: Feb 21
If there is such a thing as the collective unconscious, its manifestation is music. I say that not as a scientist, because I can’t. I say it as a writer, that is to say as a student of the human condition.
Music is practically a mind-altering substance. When it’s good, it’s got the weight of a whole human’s soul behind it. That can be infectious.
We share music. Love it, lump it, or live it, music works into the cracks of all of us. Music is about as close to magic as we get. It’s an intentional act with mysterious consequences.
Which isn’t to say that science has nothing to say about music and all our minds and what, if anything, they have to say with each other. They do. A great deal of science has been accomplished explaining the affects music has on the minds and bodies of the humans making and consuming the music.
The science tends to agree that the affects are varied and surprising. They’re varied and surprising, though, to science. To most of us, it’s intuitive that music will help me stay calm during spinal surgery or before a test or if I’m preparing for public speaking. The feeling is real, and it only becomes strange when experts try to explain it. Music occupies that eerie place where physical pleasure and mental pleasure coexist with the hints of what, for lack of a surer name, is usually called a soul.
I have far too much to say about music and what it has to do with my happiness.
Instead of falling too deeply into the cozy depths of it, here’s a bunch of snapshots of music that has made me happy…
The exciting thing about the new suburban was the CD player. Mom put in an album—a red one, with a blue spine. I was twelve, and I had never heard of it. “What’s this?” I asked. “It’s Making Movies, by Dire Straits,” she said. “It’s one of the best rock and roll albums of all time.”
The Toyota was a silver Camry with a plush blue interior. It was in that boxy style representative of the worst of the 1980s, and it was the ugliest thing ever built. And the CD player was jammed. Or that was what I thought at first, until one day when I thought to press play, as an experiment. The speakers began playing the first volume of Death on the Road, one of Iron Maiden’s live albums. Immediately, that was my favorite car of all time.
My grandfather’s enormous beard and grey mustache framed the O of his lips. His eyebrows inched up on his forehead. He sang two consecutive notes, and with a start I understood, beyond all logic, that they weren’t quite the same. “That’s the advantage a violin has over a piano,” he said. “The advantage singers have too. A piano is a tempered scale, but most other instruments aren’t. There’s a small difference between a C sharp and a D flat.”
On a night when I knew I would never define myself, I climbed into the ugly silver Toyota Camry, going nowhere at all. I had made receipt of a package that day. That night, a stormy mood was sabotaged by the opening chords Jimmy Page played of “Custard Pie.” I heard Led Zeppelin for the first time in my life, and I fell in love.
Nick was the sort of person easy to hate on sight, because of his attitude of style and his easy manners. And I had hated him. Our mothers set us up on a playdate, which neither of us had the strength to argue against. He didn’t drive, and he found the case for a compilation album of Guns N’ Roses on the floor of my car, which he praised as good. But then he opened it and discovered a Best of Van Halen instead. “Oh,” he said, “even better.” And a friendship took root.
Happiness and Music
Happiness sometimes gets mistaken for pleasure. They’re not the same thing. People can feel pleasure while happy, and sometimes happiness can be pleasant. But they aren’t the same. Pleasure is fleeting. Happiness is something else. A good example is the “happily” married couple (or a BAND that has been together since the beginning of time; Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are famed to be CONSTANT fighters in the creative sense).
A married couple can be in the middle of a fight fit to shake the house down, but someone can ask them, “But are you happy together?”
And they can say, through gritted teeth and seething with anger, “Yes. We’re happy together.”
Happiness is half a state of life. It has a thousand keys and tones, and it’s playing in the background of millions of experiences that range from the staccato abruptness of a two minute punk song to the airy grace of a Vivaldi concerto.
All music is the product of feeling. Music holds feelings, like a time capsule or a safety deposit box, kept safe for later use.
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Oliver is a wielder of words and a workshop master for all things content. He is a published author of books "Ragged Museum" and "City Song". #ThinkDigital is where a lot of his newest articles live when it comes to learning, unlearning, work-life-balance. He is also a much loved team member in Front Page News as our man on the ground in Denver.