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Why Music Matters (To Me)

illustration of music background in doodle style

Let’s be honest: This essay is doomed. There’s no way I’m a good enough writer to put into words how much music matters to me. I’m given to hyperbole, but even hyperbole ain’t gonna cut it. But here’s goes nothing. (What does that even mean?)

This evening I was feeling a bit lonely and blue all of a sudden. Not for any reason. Depression is just like that. It sneaks up on you. So I did what I often do in those situations, and put on some music. Earlier this afternoon I’d decided to try out a new music player on my Linux system, and it shows my music library in a subtly different way from my old music player. And that meant that I stumbled across the album Here by Adrian Belew, which I bought when it came out in 1994 and promptly wore out.

This album is amazing. I mean, just listen to this:

Great, right? Even crazier when you consider the Adrian is playing every instrument and singing every note. And then the lyrics are all about the incredible things humanity has achieved. And then that guitar solo at 1:56, the first couple bars of which make the hair on my arms stand up.

Or this, which is one of the most beautiful songs anybody’s ever written (this is an acoustic version from a different record because I couldn’t find the version from Here on YouTube):

I mean, the world has that in it, so it has to be a pretty good place, right?

And that’s just it. Music has the power to cut through everything. EVERYTHING. I’ve never had a day so bad that I couldn’t find some sort of solace in music, or a day so good that the right song couldn’t make it better. I wrote about this a bit back in 2011, and mentioned this perfect song by Stevie Wonder:

When those backing vocals kick in at 2:25, I’m gone. Over the moon. As happy as I can imagine being. I just tried it right now while writing this and I’m chair dancing like a fool and singing along and making a scrunchy face. I mean godDAMN. Listen to this music!

Someone once asked me if I’d rather lose my sight or my hearing, and I didn’t hesitate a second before saying sight. Yes, I’d regret not seeing the world, but I literally cannot conceive of my life without music. No offense to anybody, but music has been a more constantly enriching presence in my life than any other person or thing. Period.

Already my limited skill as a writer is starting to show. I just don’t have the words. I mean, I watched two children being born. I’ve fallen in love more than once. I’ve lost great loves, too. I’ve had incredible personal highs and lows, both in my career(s) and in my private life. I’ve had amazing sex and eaten great food. Sometimes at the same time. And not one of those things can touch music. Not one.

Music strikes deep down into the core of who I am. It reaches parts of me nothing else can reach. I’ve spent more than 1,300 hours meditating in the past few years, and I think I’ve figured out some important truths about who I am. But you know what? Music figured them out first. Everything else I do in my life is an attempt to access the parts of myself that music already knows how to reach.

What could possibly be better than this:

Music is what makes my world cohere. It’s what helps me find my way when nothing else can. Music is what keeps me going. Music is. And therefore I am.

Published in Music


  1. Jason Crane Jason Crane

    Thanks, Hal!

  2. I’ve listened to music of all sorts for as long as I can remember, written about it for nearly 5 decades, and every time I sit down at the keyboard, the struggle to find the right words starts anew. You do a great job articulating the power and the glory of what keeps many of us moving forward every day!

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