Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Music Therapy

As a young fan, what first hooked me on heavier rock and roll in my early teen years was how I internalized the confidence exuded by that style of music, and how I felt about myself when I was listening. Rock and roll makes us bolder, more fearless, and can reconnect us with a primal side of ourselves that is muted in day-to-day modern life. Standing in the pit of a real, take-no-prisoners rock show, you can feel the vibrations humming in your bones and drowning out the ever-present mind-stream of obligations, stress, and doubt. It is an ultimate exhilaration that reminds us that the present moment is the only one that counts. Perhaps rock and roll is a coping mechanism, armor for the soft spots in our soul, a drug to dull pain. I believe it is an integral part of our well-being, a release for the body, a cleansing of the mind, and a reminder that any pain we feel has already been immortalized in song and that we are therefore, never truly alone.

It is typically assumed that we become wiser with age. True, we make mistakes and learn from them and therefore wisdom is imparted. From my experience through early adulthood, despite wisdom gained, something critical can gradually erode away over time Рthe bravado and fearlessness that comes with the naivet̩ of youth. As years wear on, voices, whether external or from within, remind us of past disappointments, caution against future failures, and slowly etch away the belief that the world is ours for the taking. Whether delusional or not to believe that the world is mine for the taking, I desperately wanted to feel that way again.

In an effort to recapture the self–assurance I once had, I thought back to the periods in my life when I felt most whole and most comfortable in my skin. Of course, life circumstances played a role in how I felt in a given time, but when my mind traveled back to those times, it wasn’t the people, the places, or the circumstances that I most vividly recalled; it was the soundtrack. It was Guns ‘N’ Roses, convincing me of my own bad-assery as I floored the pedal of my first ride – a 10 year old Volvo wagon (not bad ass). It was making the first move in a make-out session while Chili Peppers “Suck My Kiss” played, emboldened by the detached, unromantic nature of the song and not even considering the possibility of rejection. It was daydreaming of far-away lands I would one day travel as Jimmy Page’s guitar and Robert Plant’s lyrics evoked images of exotic marketplaces, rolling hills, and misty mountains. Before libations were even an option in my underage world, there was something else that made me feel 10 feet tall and bullet-proof; the music.

Somewhere along the way I misplaced my confidence, overruled by self-doubt, and the nagging feeling that I was not bold enough to fistfight life’s challenges. I didn’t know where the mojo went but I knew that Mr. Mojo was a good place to start looking. You see, music can be powerful trigger in recalling thoughts or feelings that have been in hibernation. I thought, “If I can retrace the steps of my music fandom by reliving the albums from my most self-assured age, perhaps I could taste the remnants of a confidence that was inherently there from the beginning.” It was my own little music therapy experiment (high speed Volvo driving and make-out sessions optional.)

And so began immersion into a time capsule, listening to all of the albums that emboldened me long ago: The Doors “LA Woman”, The Chili Peppers “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”, anything Led Zeppelin. There were also the albums that once filled me with a dreamlike peace and optimism, like Van Morrison’s “Moondance” or The Grateful Dead “Reckoning.” I searched those as well, for pieces of joy I had lost along the way. I found moments of solitude where I could joyride with the windows down and the music loud, or lay in the sun with my eyes closed, transporting to a former time and place.

I wish I could say that this little experiment had the restorative effect I had so earnestly hoped for, but then again, that would be an all-too-easy solution to a crisis of confidence. As I listened to songs I had not played in years, and recollections flashed in my mind’s eye, I appreciated that these songs lived in my past I would always relate them to the moments they first became imprinted in my mind. (I also appreciated for the first time in nearly 2 decades that Appetite for Destruction is one hell of a gritty, sleezy, awesome album.)

While my little experiment did bring me back in touch with the younger me, I realized I can’t make those songs evoke the same confidence it they did back when I was a kid, back when the slate was clean. You can’t un-learn, un-experience, and wipe away the events of life that leave the scars – and who would want to anyway? To do so would be the very antithesis of rock and roll.

In attempting to recapture the youthful outlook lost, I realized as a music fan, I was better off without it. Every experience that reveals to us our flaws and fragility brings us closer to understanding the rawness that comes from our most gifted songwriters. For all of the confidence and bravado exuded through rock music, aren’t its beloved creators among the most flawed and fragile? What better way to impart deeper meaning to lyrics played a thousand times than to build on your own life experiences, both the good and the bad? Besides, cocksure confidence can be feigned anytime for the mere price of admission… it’s all just a rock and roll state of mind.

-AZ