In the audible diet of life, music is dessert. Sure you can live on dessert. There’s caloric value in it just like there are ideas in music, but the lean protein of information and experience is rarely there in the abundance needed for intellectual growth. The musical sugar toys with people’s mental glycogen to lift them up and down, addicting them. Maybe booze is a better analogy. How many people drink their coffee and listen to c-span or talk radio on their way to work, and then jam out to a brain-unplugging tune on their way to a post-work beer?
Never in the history of man have people had access to such an audible buffet. You could be reading The Sound and the Fury on your morning commute instead of listening to T-Swift shaking it off for the 37th time. And yet most people I know keep going to the chocolate fountain instead of the carvery. Your brain deserves better.
On a budget? Listen to podcasts. Ideally something that gives you counter-intuitive ways to look at the world. Comedians like Marc Maron and Pete Holmes have famous and interesting guests and have a habit of asking questions successful habits, beliefs about God, and the double-edge of relationships. You know what makes the Dos-Equis guy so interesting? Life experience. And you can be learning the pivotal life experiences of some of the world’s most interesting people while your pounding the treadmill to atone for last night’s Oreo’s.
Now, I like music. I listen to it while I write (Blues Traveler is playing right now), and I listen to it while I work out. Those are times I like to be a little raw and emotional and just let myself be manipulated by it. I love the way it controls the tone of movies and TV. Like sugar, the world would be bland without it. But it’s the opportunity cost of playing to our emotions instead of our minds that’s unsettling.
This thought came to me upon noticing a wild snapback in my mental dialogue in the car. I was listening to Slacker Radio (my first mistake), and “Colorblind” by Counting Crows came on. I found myself reminiscing on something I wrote once: “I thought we made minutes small to trick ourselves into thinking that life is long. But I think the real trick is that the minutia of time was built in cycles. Hours, days, weeks and seasons repeating in perpetuity so that the future always looks like a cul-de-sac instead of a dead end.” Only minutes later, “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind was on, and I was thinking about the time me and three high-school buddies jammed out on air instruments in a Toyota Corolla. With no one around, the memory had me smiling ear-to-ear.
I like going to both of those thought spaces. I just don’t like the concept of something external shoving me there, commandeering my personal mental agency. I’d rather maintain an even emotional keel while learning about the (possibly crackpot) ideas of Deepak Chopra on the “reality sandwich” of material, quantum, and virtual aspects of the universe. That stuff kills at cocktail parties.
One last thing about music. Here’s the first Google image of the artists that are in the top 5 at Billboard right now.
Teenage girls love pure sugar.