“Music Hath Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast”

by | Aug 26, 2019 | Articles | 0 comments

So wrote William Congreve in 1697, and it’s still true today. Of course, not everyone today understands that “hath” meant “has,” or that a “savage breast” was another way of saying “wild heart.” And these days, more music is made to stimulate than to calm.

My own relationship to music is lifelong and deeply personal. I can recall, with some degree of clarity, everything from the enlivening effect of pop songs first heard at eight or nine to the uplifting hymns of my days in church as a youth. Whatever the source, the music I’ve loved has moved me, while music I dislike has brought on feelings equally intense.

I believe music, poetry and song are all intrinsically connectednot only for listeners but also for its creators. By the age of thirteen, I’d already begun writing songs and poems, and the melodies of lyrics I wrote came to me just as vividly as the words. A boy without a band, I was as likely to write a song as a poem on any given day…and there were periods where I wrote one or the other daily.

 

Is It Live Or Is It Memory?

When I hit junior high, my older brother was already in high school. It was only natural that we would want to go to rock shows, and our parents actually dropped us off at my first one, a Kiss concert in 1978. In retrospect, the sound was awful, distorted by a ridiculously high volume that should have gotten any respectable sound man fired. But it was all part of the spectacle, and Kiss, however cartoonish their image and limited their musicianship, could deliver quite an audiovisual assault at the height of their powers. I was young enough to be appropriately blown away.

That began a lifelong willingness to trek to shows that led to an abundance of memoriesnot to mention a pretty decent case of tinnitus.

Just as live shows became an obsession—from small local acts like the folky Nields to international superstars like Sir Paul McCartney—so did my desire to collect music. Like the guy in the old Memorex ads, I spent many an hour in front of home speakers with the volume cranked up. I think there’s a chemical change in the body when it’s bombarded with sound, and I enjoyed many moments thus engaged.

 

But Then One Grows Up…

Ultimately, as I grew from adolescence to adulthood, my tastes changed and widened. I’ve grown from a little rocker dude into a music aficionado with wide-ranging tastes. I enjoy jazz, ambient, and experimental music in addition to the classic rock, blues, and folk that served as the soundtrack to my teenage and young adult years.

Music plays a role in many aspects of my life to this day. My deep connection to the words and music of Phil Ochs influenced my most recent novel, Whizzers, and I spend most days at my desk with music playing on the iMac while I work. The CD and record collecting hobby has mostly transitioned to files, though I still like to pop in the occasional CD while driving in order to enjoy a better experience than mp3 files can provide.

And I think music ties in closely to the last couple weeks’ worth of blog posts. The themes of spirituality and metaphysics run through many of the songs I still enjoy, and in my own work as well. In the words of Frank Zappa, “Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.”

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