Category Archives: music

Musical Mind Hacks Monday — 4 Bands to Change Your Mood

Most everyone loves a little music therapy, and now we’re learning something about why. First, there’s something about the anticipation/fulfillment pattern of music. This article (Jonah Lehrer in his Wired column) cites evidence from classical music that dances around the tonic (the I chord) but doesn’t quite hit it, building anticipation for the final climax enjoyably. If you listen to rock or pop music you hear something very similar: guitarists leaning on the 7th, creating a near frenzy of desire for resolution.

I do love instrumental music, but when I really need music therapy I like to sing along and really belt it out. Maybe it’s like doing affirmations: you really need to say these things out loud and not just add them to the noise in your head. And check this out:

Scientists have researched what variables in a song inspire people to sing along in public, the Daily Record reports. Experts found that the impromptu urge to sing along to a song can be credited to four different elements.

These are a long and detailed musical phrase, multiple pitch changes in a song’s hook, the song being led by a male vocalist and the male vocal being in a higher key.

It’s not on my list of top mood lifters, but yeah, I’ll sing along to their catchiest song: Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” (But if you really need a mood lift immediately, go now and watch the Google doodle of “Don’t stop me now.”)

I have my own favorites, many of which fit the qualities researchers found, plus have some personal resonance and — if you ask me — empirical awesomeness that make them go-to songs for me when I need an attitude adjustment.

Stevie Wonder
OK, yes, he is not a band — technically. He’s just such a fantastic musician that he counts as a whole band and then some. And if you want songs with multiple pitch changes—that come out sounding like the most obvious, simple melodies no matter how complex—Stevie is your man. Stevie writes some great love songs: I won’t tell you about the mushy night when husband-to-be and I sat on the sofa and sang Stevie songs to each other, because that is just too much. Or that his brother sang “If It’s Magic” while his brother-in-law played the harp at our wedding: beautiful. Then there was the time we saw him live on New Year’s Eve in Detroit . . .

Love songs aside, though, Stevie is the ultimate “movin’ in the positive” (“Master Blaster”) music. Before all that hearts and flowers stuff, I remember the summer after I graduated from college: I spent the first day crying and crying (and listening to David Bowie, “Changes”) because I felt so lost. Then I picked up the Musiquarium compilation albums and spent the next three months listening to “Boogie on Reggae Woman” nonstop, and I was healed. It’s a sing along, it’s a dance along, it’s irresistible:

Though the very best Stevie sing along could be this one, “As.” Songs in the Key of Life should be handed to every depression patient. Or maybe just to everybody.

Dixie Chicks
They aren’t men, but they do sing in that easy pop tenor range. The Dixie Chicks were part of an experiment for me, years ago, to try things that other people might be critical of. My brainstorm: listen to country music. I didn’t really like the sound of Natalie Maines’ voice at first, but I couldn’t deny that singing along to “Goodbye Earl” and “Sin Wagon” was a lot of fun. When they came out with Taking the Long Way in 2006 I was primed to love it: they had already won me over with their bluegrass—rather than contemporary country pop— sound, and this album was their middle finger to everyone who had gone after them, burning records and sending death threats, after they dared criticize the president during a concert. (Wow, that incident sounds even weirder 10 years later.) Taking the Long Way is a whole album that responds to “Shut Up and Sing” with “I’ll sing, but no one tells me to shut up,” and that first song, “The Long Way Around,” is pretty much the theme song for any kid who grew up in a small town that always fit too tight.

After that album I went back and got Home, their first really big album. All the songs sound different and more defiant after their fall from country music grace, especially “Truth No. 2” (written by the amazing Patty Griffin). Singing along with the Chicks on that one always makes me want to go storm the Bastille, or at least keep plugging along a few more days.

Sly and the Family Stone

Sly is so funky—and at times so dangerous—that it’s easy to miss the fact that half his hits are self-help: “Everybody is a Star,” “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” “You Can Make It If You Try.” I usually prefer to listen to albums rather than greatest hits compilations, especially for music in the heyday of long-play albums, but in this case the greatest hits album is like mainlining positivity. When I put this album on now I see myself in our old one-bedroom apartment, pregnant and trying to get a dissertation written before having the baby, following a spectacularly disastrous oral exam. Could I really make it if I tried? Singing these songs over and over again, I started to think I could. Maybe the greatest of them all, fit for nearly ever occasion: “Stand.”

I can’t resist linking to the Pee Wee Herman medley, which is so worth a click through. (Embedding is disabled on the video.)

U2
Like many children of the 80s, I found the soundtrack of my life on U2 albums, from War to the upcoming 20th anniversary commemoration of Achtung, Baby. I doodled lyrics from “40” during class in high school. When the movie Rattle and Hum came out I thought my teenage self might die from love of each individual member of the band. I sat in my bedroom and repeatedly listened to “One” and “With or Without You” while I pined for the boy who later became my husband. Lately I’ve had All That You Can’t Leave Behind in the kitchen CD player, which has a nice long stretch of songs that help me persist through a persistent funk: “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Elevation,” and “Walk On.” All of it says: keep going, drop your baggage, look around and enjoy this day, and if things suck now it won’t last. Nothing new, perhaps, but when you sing it out to the chickpeas and rice while making dinner it’s mighty uplifting stuff.

(Forgive the Tomb Raider video, please! In fact, forgive all the videos. If I could post audio only I would.)

When I was younger, my list of music therapy songs might have been more of the “Where Will I Find Love?” variety, but this list is squarely in “Love your life and don’t look back” category.

What are your go-to songs for turning your mood or your day around? Send us a guest blog post (mina dot 40questions at gmail dot com) or send a link to your own blog—or just put ’em in the comments.

Twenty Years Ago: Lollapalooza, Pre-Geek Chic, and Love

Do you remember August 1991?

Twenty years ago I was going to the very first Lollapalooza concert in Chicago. I was working at the Minnesota Daily, and the two other night editors and I decided to go together.

Vocabulary digression: the night editors were the last of the editorial team to see the paper before one of us drove it—drove it!—over to the printer in the middle of the night. A large part of our job was to maintain the integrity of the actual text of the paper once it had gone “Prod Side” (out of the editorial office and into the production office, housed in a completely separate building) and was in the hands of the art directors, advertising people, and other folks who were more concerned with visual appeal than the accuracy of the 4th largest newspaper in Minnesota.

Everyone working on the paper was probably 25 or younger, which explains why it didn’t occur to anyone that if all the night editors left town for the weekend (when the paper didn’t run) and for some reason couldn’t come back by Sunday night, the paper would be in a bit of a pickle.

Luckily, although all of us were brilliant editors and students, none of us were especially wise, and off we three drove in my tiny bright blue Honda Civic hatchback, which had been dubbed The Indigo Chariot by my roommate.

My memories of the trip are hazy, but I have to laugh at the things I remember:

—Chicago Pizza

—Ice-T as a young rapper instead of old actor

—Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction: For most of their set there were 2 girls with no pants dancing lethargically next to Mr. Farrell, as if grinding with a rock star would be the most boring thing they would do all day. I think they did some things that were supposed to suggest they were Maybe Bisexual (ooooh! Edgy!). I remember looking at Perry Farrell and thinking that he looked just like a super-nerdy former high school loser (trust me, I know) who now had the fame and fortune to force models to gyrate next to him in public. It was kind of sad. I’m curious whether they’ve maintained that part of their act 20 years later.

—Living Colour, which I was really into at the time for some reason

—The cute nerdy editor who drove my car a lot of the way. He was a little younger than me, highly geeky, and scrawny in that way that made me feel—at 5’9”, with the hottest, perkiest body I would ever have—more like an older sister than a potential love interest. Still, had I not moved away, who knows? “Geek Chic” was not yet something any sane marketer had considered, but I was totally charmed by this pale, glasses-wearing boy who confessed at the age of 20 that he still liked dinosaurs. (Bitchy young me: “Really? I liked dinosaurs too. When I was FIVE.”) Last I saw he was a city editor for the Onion, so you can see my instincts on the whole “So Nerdy He’s Hot” thing were right on.

—Henry Rollins scolding the crowd for not clapping enough for the Butthole Surfers, who totally sucked.

—The repeated failure of my car to start.

See, you knew where this was headed. In the morning, as we left our hotel bright and early so we responsible young editors could be back in Minneapolis with hours to spare, my car would not start. My beautiful First Car Ever, for many years the only car used among my groups of friends, was dying.

We got it to a service station, and their brilliant advice was to drive drive drive drive without stopping, because once I stopped it would not start again without a jump from a kind stranger. So we did just that. We headed out of Chicago and into the prairie until it seemed we would absolutely have to stop for gas. We stopped for gas, made panicked calls to whatever Daily staffers we could find (cell phones? this was 1991, people, there were no cell phones for college students), got a jump, and rolled into Minneapolis just in time for the three of us to do our jobs for the Monday morning paper.

Because we were the very last editorial staff to see the paper, that issue has more than a few inside jokes tucked away referring to our predicament, including a little line art representing my poor hatchback, which needed a fair amount of work before I could drive it off to graduate school a couple weeks later.

Somewhere after midnight we all walked to one of the editor’s apartments and tried to crash there, but we were so wired we stayed up talking all night. I think the other female editor and I flirted aimlessly with Cute Editor Boy, all of us knowing full well that we were the kind of people who went to alt rock concerts and danced like fools, then went home alone to read classic novels and recover from too much smoke and crowd noise and write about it all later.

Sometime before sunrise we walked Editor Boy to his apartment, then went for pancakes. I probably only saw the two of them a handful of times before leaving Minneapolis; there was no point in further developing relationships that were about to end.

The Indigo Chariot was fixed and I drove it, along with my mother, and my step-father and grandfather following in a station wagon, to Ann Arbor. I cried as we drove away: I loved the city of Minneapolis, I loved the music and the theater and the lakes, and I was just starting to figure out, at the age of 21, that there were boys there who actually kind of liked tall nerd girls. On the way to Michigan, I stopped at the last exit of the Upper Peninsula to call my housemates in my new digs. I lay on my back on the floor of my hotel room and laughed with surprise when a boy answered the phone and identified himself as Eggmaster.

I hadn’t told anyone when I would arrive, so I told Eggmaster that getting him on the phone was the biggest relief of my life, still laughing from exhaustion and now from nerves. “I’m so glad I could be part of the biggest release of your life,” he said, and I don’t know whether he misheard me or decided to mess with me.

I met him a the next day: horn-rimmed glasses, a thin white t-shirt, black motorcycle jacket, black combat boots, long and heavy black bangs covering one of his eyes. I soon saw that his bookcase was full of Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald; I learned that he was a drummer and he loved Rush. Geek Chic indeed, except he was in no way scrawny, and he was —hurray!—a full four inches taller than me. I did not learn his position on dinosaurs. Despite our breathless, giggly phone conversation, we hardly spoke to each other for three weeks, so intense was our shyness and introversion.

Nevertheless, Reader, I married him.

When I read online that today Lollapalooza was marking its 20th anniversary, the incredible sweetness of August 1991, which seems so long ago, came rushing back. Though I am right now listening to my twelve-year-old daughter practice her Bach inventions, I remember another bright young woman who was just waking up to the surprising possibilities life has to offer, amazed that she, too, might have a chance at love, joy, and just a little reckless abandon.

Once More Out of the Cave

Back in the early 90s I went to see a staging of the Broadway version of the Who’s Tommy—a soundtrack for my childhood—and the lyrics seemed radically revised. Freedom didn’t just taste of reality, it tasted of “normality.” Tommy, the deaf dumb and blind kid, tells Sally “The point is not for you to be more like me. The point is . . . I’m finally more like you.”

Gahhhhhh!

I think I was about 24 at the time, and Pete Townshend would have been in his mid to late 40s when he revised the old lyrics for a new show. I thought then, “Wow, that must be what it is to get old. To make this music relevant for him now, it has to be a story about conforming rather than about liberation.”

(Or maybe about it was drugs. The plot never made much sense.)

(ps you really have to watch that. It will probably explain a lot about your parents.)

May God grant that I age as well as Pete Townshend, obviously, who probably still has more stamina than me. And who knows what he did to make a show that would sell on Broadway.

I haven’t swung quite so far as Tommy did, but lately when I hear new music on the radio, I try to compare my response to it now to how I might have responded to it then. Just as when I hear a song from the 80s, sometimes I think, “Wow, that song sounds so different to me now.”

It’s fitting that I heard of Mumford and Sons from my high school nephew. I love the song “The Cave”: I can imagine myself as a young woman listening while trying to make a decision about leaving college as a sophomore (I did go back), or taking a leave of absence from grad school (ditto), or leaving a job search behind and committing to freelancing full-time (it stuck).

I listen to this song and I see a young woman in a tiny apartment on the phone, trying to convince a well-meaning friend or family member that despite the risks, everything will be OK. I see a desk covered in dorky affirmations—”You will. . . because you can!”—and a brutal 24-hours-solid of crying after a particularly epic failure.

My life lacks that level of drama now, but the song still speaks to me as I think it would have then. Crawling out of the cave of high school, of sadness, and now out of those early high-contact years of parenting: it’s all another chance to rise up and walk out into the light. I love that this song threads those moments together and connects me to that restless, excited, fearless energy of the young me.

I also love cute boys with English accents and long hair. Some things never change.

Do listen now to what you did then? Does it sound the same?