Just listening to Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto. Coincidentally, there’s this pretentious guy from the New York Times on the radio who has the snotty ones to rank The Ten Greatest Composers Of All Time!. What a prat. (And note my envy. He’s getting paid to do something I do all the time. But I’d never have the snotty ones to rank them. At least not in public. Unless I was getting paid, of course.)
But then it got me thinking about losing a few pounds. Because the next thing on the radio is a story about how America has the fattest people on the planet. (Curse you BBC! Thou enabler of all things ADD!)
So we’re all fat, right? OK… everyone but you.
And the reason we’re fat is because our bodies were not genetically designed for all the abundance we have at hand. By now we all get that, even as we reach for that next Ho Ho. We’re wired to look for that sugary goodness. And it’s so easy to get. What’s the common euphemism for the way we eat today? We inhale it! And that’s not all that much of a metaphor. The abundance really is at hand… it’s about 12 inches to my left, as a matter of fact. Salsa!
Ten thousand years ago, we could’ve used a laser-guided tracking system to find enough calories to stay alive. Even with our big brains. You worked to find it. You worked to grow it; or chase it down. You worked to beat it to death or grind it into flour. And then you worked to cook it. And finally, you had to chew it; surrounded by people you had to talk to around the fire (the main topic probably being how to find more food tomorrow.)
Jeez, survival was real work.
But the thing about that work is that the effort itself is enriching. In other words, we’re designed to work to get our sustainance. Get it? The harder we work for those calories, the more enriching they are; in every sense of that word.
By making food inhalable as we have, we do ourselves great harm. Smiling all the way to the grave. It robs us of the quality of the food we ingest, the exercise in it’s obtaining, and the fellowship of it’s consumption.
The Big Analogy
We are also wired to enjoy music. It too ‘feeds’ us. Even in prison, a guy will play a harmonica, or hear a song in his head to make the time pass.
And like the components of ‘food’ food, certain elements of music are good for us and certain elements not so much. Frankly, a lot of musical elements are a lot like sugar–we just can’t seem to get enough of them because we’re hard wired to like them. Heavy drum beats are one. That wailing country singer crying about the man who done her wrong is another. We’re wired to respond to certain musical stimuli.
And now? With the advent of computers (which are the musical equipment of food chemistry) we can target those addictive elements of the brain like one of those drone planes over North Waziristan.
A hundred and fifty years ago? We had to work a lot harder to enjoy music. You wonder why guys carried a flute or even a frickin’ banjo along with their field pack during the Civil War. Well, providing some relief after a a few musket charges was probably worth the schlep. That was the power of playing ‘Oh Suzannah’ for those poor saps. At home, a sign that you were doing right by your kids was a piano; not a Playstation. And if you couldn’t play? If you couldn’t beat your kids until they learned a few Scott Joplin Rags? Well, you went somewhere to hear real people playing.
Getting at bit more into the ‘now’, when I was a kid (he said, awaiting evening tapioca cup at the home), even if you didn’t play, you listened to records. And that in itself was something of a communal feast. Nowadays? All we need to do is twiddle the earbuds. We don’t even need to work our wrists to lift the tonearm on the record player.
My point is this: Music has reached a point similar to where we’re at with food. We’ve made music into such a Go-gurt like ‘music-based product’ that for the good of our very health and that of our society we need to start having a conversation. And that conversation should be about a ‘slow music’ movement. We need to start realising that we can no longer let ‘what sounds good’ be the arbiter of what we expose our ears to any more than ‘what tastes good’ can be the sole determinant as to what we stuff into our faces. We’ve reached the point where we have to see that when it comes to music? Our bodies don’t know what’s good for us. And we need to bring our big brains to bear on the problem for the sake of our health. In short, we need to start thinking about music the same way we do about food. And our culture needs to go on a diet.
We can start re-training ourselves in many ways, but all of them will require effort. No one can do everything, but everyone can (and ought to) do something. Learn an instrument. Go to a show where guys play real instruments with nary a DJ in sight. Get together with friends and sing (seriously). Or at the very least? Sit down at a genuine stereo and just listen. No video. No earbuds. No computer. A stereo.
You can use the whole ‘Food Pyramid’ thing as a guide. Identify your particular sound addictions and dial ’em back a bit every day, adding a bit more fiber (music with some chord changes or some lyrics that make a person think or in a style you’re not familiar for example?) A little less gristle and sugar. A little more veg. Not a huge change all at once. Just a bit every day.
My guess is that many of us are now so ADHD from all the fast-food music we inhale that sitting down and listening to a 45 minute LP may take some work. And if that thought seem ridiculous, then prove me wrong and try it! If you realise that I’m correct and this frightens you? Hey, it shouldn’t be any scarier than knowing what those extra twenty pounds are doing to your (my) life expectancy.
But we owe it to ourselves, our society, heck our children to take this seriously and go on a music diet; to learn to appreciate music again. To broaden our minds, improve our attention span and get back to the deeper aesthetics that we were meant to have. The appreciation that we’ve largely lost in this era of Fast Music Nation.
You may think this is all nutsy cuckoo, but go back and read your Plato. All those guys talked about how music affects the culture right down to individual behaviours. They figured it out 2,500 years ago and even before that. Music does affect us just like the food we eat. And brother? We needs to go on a diet.