Music: The Shape of My Heart

My music collection is an embarrassment.  I'm fully willing to admit that, and it's actually frightening to do so.  First, I have music on my iPod no 25 year old male should admit to having.  Music here falls into two categories- show tunes and pop.  Show tunes have always fulfilled me on many levels- mostly I appreciate having an overarching narrative, and as much as you aren't willing to admit it, you know it would be pretty sweet if you were able to express every emotion through a jazzy song and dance routine and had a personal pit orchestra that followed you everywhere you went.  Show tunes are also functional for me, especially Disney songs.  On long van rides with high school students, the commonality we can almost always find is Disney.
The pop is another story.  I have no clue why I ever put Brittany Spears on my iPod.  I don't even know how she got on my music hard drive.  My best guess is it appeared at some point when I was preparing an activity for psychology on her outrageousness.  She's  probably the most egregious example of music I shouldn't own.  I'll defend my other pop choices to the death.  Lady Gaga is a brilliant performer.  While I find her songs to be formulaic (read: all exactly the same,) I can't imagine getting enough of being Beautiful, Dirty Rich anytime soon.  And sometimes I do wake up in the morning feelin' like P-Diddy-- clearly Ke$ha is the only person who can relate to my emotional baggage.
But none of that is really significant.  I enjoy the eclecticism of my collection.  Gershwin, the Glee soundtracks, and the Postal Service all live comfortably next to each other in my library sorted by album.  What is truly ridiculously embarrassing is the amount of music I have that I have never listened to or fully appreciated.  I have an insane amount of Led Zeppelin but couldn't recognize a single song.  The same is true of Wilco, Radiohead, and about 50 other bands and artists I carry with me everywhere. 
Sharing my iPod with other people is terrifying for me.  It's not that I'm worried about people judging my tastes (because I know they well, it's human nature, and I don't care,) but I become on alert.  I think to myself, "shit, what if they ask me about the Beta Band, and all I can ejaculate from my mouth is some half-asses remark about Dry the Rain."  Call me a fool, reject, or even poser, but there's a brilliantly fantastic reason for my ignorance.  Most of the music I own was shared with me by various friends.  I simply haven't had the time to get around to listening to everything.
Music is a communal experience.  Even in its more solitary forms, sitting alone in a room with nothing but a guitar to guide you or sitting high up on a hill at midnight tuning out the silence that would otherwise suffocate you, both the creation of and listening of song is nothing more than artistic communication.  It binds us in ways that can be surprising, confusing, and rewarding.  It becomes, in a way, part of our collective unconscious.  There are songs we all know, either through popularity or inclusion in our cultural canon of music.  We even can shout out lyrics that don't exist in songs.  I guarantee you that no one ever sat you down and said, "Okay Allison, they're going to play Sweet Caroline next.  You need to sing bah-bah-bah after he sings her name and then shout out 'so good!' three times because the good times really are thrice as good."  Rather, you probably heard it a couple times (actually, probably just once) and figured out what to do.
Music is personal.  It easily gets tied to emotion.  Music is universal- everyone has music they prefer.  It seems that we connect with music more than any other form of artistic expression.  The following information is easy for me to reveal to you-- it causes no anxiety:
  •                 My favorite artist is René Magritte.
  •                 My favorite poem is To His Coy Mistress.
  •                My favorite Shakespearean lines are "Eyes, look your last! / Arms, take your last             embrace! and, lips, O you / The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss / A dateless bargain to engrossing death!"  Romeo's nearly last lines
  •                 My favorite speech in Shakespeare is Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" speech

No one (or very few) are going to make judgments about my absurd taste in art, my slightly dirty preference in poetry, that my I enjoy one of Shakespeare least impressive plays, or that I deeply sympathize with Hamlet.  Here's something that I can ensure that folks will judge me for:
                I own the soundtrack to the audaciously terribly Olivia Newton John film, Xanadu.
I also listen to is titular song regularly.  Not daily, but certainly weekly.  If you aren't judging me, unfriending me on Facebook, or questioning why you're even reading this blog with this revelation, I might be likewise compelled to question your judgment.  It's not that I think this is a great, good, or even mediocre, song-- it's that it's wrapped up in memories for me-- extremely positive memories.
Music connects us to each other, and we shouldn't fear that.  We shouldn't fear judgment, exclusion, or or any other negative verb.  It surprised me, at first, that when I would take a student's iPod, they would become more uneasy over the prospect of me looking at their music than they would if I had taken their cell phone and looked at a text.  Similarly, when I taught social psychology, it would always work out that I was finishing the section on love right around Valentine's Day.  Instead of a quiz, I gave the kids what proved to be a more difficult assignment for them-- bring in your favorite love song to share with the class.
 For some, it was easy-- they just grabbed their iPod, or loaded a music video on YouTube, of some ridiculous song with the word love in the title.  For most, the nervousness was palpable.  They offered up songs that they connected with their family, with ex-boyfriends, with their crushes, with their faith.  Each one revealing to the whole class another side of themselves- a more honest side- a side with something to fear.
Music has the ability to build a sense of community.  For instance, family holidays can overwhelm the most fortitudinous of us.  After a chaotic day, my sister and I decided we needed to go out.  Fortunately, a local establishment was prepared to offer us reprieve on that Thanksgiving night.  It had been a long day, and we looked forward to relaxing with a few mutual friends.  Aside from the four of us, there were about ten other weary souls at that particular dive that night.  Just before 2:00, tempers became short and bottles were broken-- along with the levity of the evening.  A fight erupted between four extremely belligerent middle-aged men.
By this time, there was only one bartender left at the bar, a younger guy lacking in strength-- both physically and vocally-- to do anything about the situation.  Despite his efforts, the fight continued to escalate.  He called the police, but they wouldn't be able to get there for 15 minutes.  My sister and I gave each other a knowing look, rolled our eyes, and scooted over to get the bartender's attention.  Frustrated and annoyed, he walked over to us and inquired, "what do you want?  Last call was 15 minutes ago and there's kinda a problem here."  My sister and I just smiled and said, "play Sweet Caroline."  Confused, the bartend walked over to the computer that controlled the music.  In a matter of seconds, the fight broke up and a tremendous shout of "good song" redirected the energy of the night back in a positive direction.  After the "bah-bah-bahs" and the "so goods" were over, everyone went on their way.  By the time the police arrived, my sister, our friends, and I were sitting on the curb enjoying one last chat together before we parted ways.

Now, I do think there is bad music.  I like some bad music.  Frankly, the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus structure annoys me.  I also get over that quickly.  I also think there're bad books out there too.  Dan Brown is a terrible writer-- almost unbearably so, but fuck if Angels and Demons wasn't fun to read.  Just because something is bad, doesn't prevent it from being enjoyable.  Nor does it really say anything about the people who enjoy it.  (Except Twilight.  That purity porn filth needs to be incinerated.)
Today I use music in my classroom all the time.  More so this year than in past years, I've been working on community building in class.  Pandora has been one of the best tools I have in helping me do this.  While students are working, either individually or in groups, I open up Pandora to my "Classroom" station (which was really pissing me off today-- too downbeat and depressing, it's usually pretty peppy.)  When the work becomes boring, and we need a break from the monotony of reading graphs and coloring maps, we have a dance break, or we rock out together to Journey.  While I know it's anything but the greatest instructional method, it certain brings us closer- it gives us an experience to tie us together.  It alleviates stress and conflict.
I don't mean to suggest that music is going to solve the world’s problems; although, I can't help but smile thinking about Neil Diamond being played before the call to prayer somewhere in the Middle East with Christians, Jews, and Muslims coming together, arms around each other, bah-bah-bahing.

1 comment:

  1. 1. I am glad I made it into your blog.

    2. Beautiful, Dirty Rich is probably the best song ever performed.

    3. When someone looks at my iPod, I feel like they are looking into my soul and they know all my dirty little secrets.