Music is everywhere. No I’m not talking about the song of the birds, or the gentle hum of the breeze—I’m not being poetic. I’m talking about that REO Speedwagon song playing at the gas station, or Tears for Fears at the grocery store, or the Spoon album playing at the coffee shop while I’m writing this blog post, or me tuning out the Spoon album at the coffee shop with some Lamont Dozier in my headphones. With only a few rare exceptions, it appears that where there are people, there is music playing. This is great right? I love music, you love music, so it is only natural that we would want it playing everywhere.
No, this is not great. First of all, music is often playing at the supermarket, and liquor store, and restaurants to make you spend more money— this isn’t a conspiracy theory, the effects of music on purchases have been studied, tested, and verified since the 1960s (here’s a layperson-friendly article on the topic if you care to read it). The fact that corporations are using music to affect our purchase habits is certainly alarming. Yet as a musician and lover of music, I am disturbed by a more general fact: when music is playing constantly, we tend to value it less.
Music is perhaps the single richest human endeavor. Interchangeably or all-at-once music can provide a means of communication, an expression of emotion, a spiritual devotion, an ecstatic experience,an affirmation of one’s culture or group, a catharsis, a way of healing or countless other things. Music activates neurons in more areas of your brain than almost any other activity (and that’s a nearly un-paraphrased sentence from this article). Music should be revered for the all-consuming entity that it is. Instead we offer it up like free mints at the end of a Tex-Mex meal.
Before the proliferation of recorded music and stereo systems,respect for music came more naturally. To experience music a person would go to church and hear the mighty organ and choir, or go to the symphony, or meet in the town square for an after-work jam, or listen to a family member play piano, or sing songs with your friends (I”m certain that this is an over-simplification of musical activities in the past but you get my drift). Music was the most captivating form of entertainment and a relatively rare treat by today’s standards. Today we have constant access to music through computers, smartphones, radios and stereos and many of us wield this power like drunken kings, constantly bombarding our ears with a schizophrenic onslaught of tunes.
Furthermore, I think that there is a direct correlation between the ubiquity of music and a decline in dancing. In some African languages the word for “music” and “dance” is the same. In American English, perhaps we could use the same word for “music” and “driving.” Today music turns up in places that are not appropriate for dancing just as often as places where dancing is encouraged. There is probably some up-tempo music playing at the grocery store right now, but you won’t see anyone dancing to it. This socially forced denial of dancing carries over even to places that are deemed appropriate for dancing. I’ve been to (or performed at) too many live shows where the band is laying down some clearly danceable grooves, and the crowd is just motionless, cerebrally listening. I think that this is just what happens when you’ve been listening to music all day but haven’t busted a single move— you didn’t dance during the day when you were listening to Beyonce so why break the seal at the Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe show? (shameless plug number one)
However, there is still hope for music. One arena in which music is still respected and fully enjoyed in our culture is at weddings. During the ceremony, music propels the movement of this still sacred ritual, and people are quite often moved to tears when they hear the first notes of the bride’s processional. Even after the ceremony, music still sits on it’s rightful throne; through some magical combination of booze, feel good songs, and joy for the newlyweds, wedding receptions still manage to get people to really cut loose on the dance floor. I absolutely love weddings for this reason, and I am extremely excited to get to travel to Eureka Springs this Saturday to play at a wedding reception with my band That Arkansas Weather— we’re available for hire by the way (shameless plug number two).
Yet you don’t have to wait for a wedding to start respecting music. Unfortunately you can’t turn off the music at the grocery store or Starbucks, but you can turn it off in your car; and you can take your headphones out once in a while; and you can turn it on in your room and really let it grab you by the bones; and you can come to the That Arkansas Weather show Friday at the Afterthought and dance til you feel better (shameless plug number three and I’m out).
For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!
Week 1—Nine Months of New Music
Week 2—That’s Masturbation
Week 3—Oblique Strategies
Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman