What’s on my iPod?
I know I’m not physically hurt. Though it feels like I’ve been kicked in the stomach by steel-toed boots, my abdomen isn’t bruised. Spiking cortisol levels are causing my muscles to tense, diverting blood away from my gut leading to this twisting, gnawing agony that I cannot stop thinking about. I can’t stop crying. I can’t move. I just stare at the ceiling wondering when, if ever, this pain is going to go away.
It doesn’t matter that my injuries are emotional. The term heartache is a metaphor; emotional wounds literally hurt. The exact same parts of the brain that light up when we’re in physical pain go haywire when we experience rejection. As far as our bodies are concerned, emotional distress is physical trauma.
We humans are social creatures and mammals are dependant on others from even before birth. We must forge and maintain relationships to survive and pass on our genes. Pain is a strong motivator; it is the primary way for our body to tell us something is wrong and needs to be fixed. Our intense aversion to pain causes us to instantly change behaviour to ensure we don’t hurt anymore.
Painkillers would be useless. Numbing and targeting nerve endings would only act peripherally. In this case it is my brain that is causing the pain. I would have to take something different. Like an opioid, which depresses the central nervous system and thus inhibiting the brain to feel. Tempting as the thought may be, it’s dangerous and it’s not the way out. No. I need to deal with this some other way.
Slowly, I sit up and grab the guitar on the foot of my bed.
Where music comes from, or even why we like and create music is still a mystery. What we do know is that it has a powerful affect on our brains. Music evokes strong emotions and changes how we perceive the world around us.
Simply listening to music stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to our brain’s reward system and feelings of happiness. But even more impressive is its effect on pain. People are able to tolerate pain for longer periods of time when listening to music and will even rate the severity of the sensation as lower, suggesting that something so simple as a melody has a direct effect on our soul.
So too, does self-expression. Expressive writing about traumatic, stressful and emotional events is more than just a way to let out emotion. So I begin to write. At first, it’s just a jumble of chords and words, haphazardly strung together. But slowly, I edit and rewrite, weaving my heart into lyrics, I play it over and over, honing the phrasing, perfecting the sound and timing the rhythm. Eventually, it starts to resemble a song.
The rush of dopamine loosens the knot in my stomach ever so slightly. For now, the agony is dulled. I have found my cocaine. Still, I can’t help but think that I’m never going to really feel better. The memory of this moment will be seared into my heart and the mental scar will always be there, torturing me with this intense feeling of loss.
Scientifically, I know I am wrong. As I close my eyes. I am comforted by the thought that the human brain, though capable of processing and storing ridiculous amounts of information, is flawed. The permanence of memory is an illusion. My memory of this moment will weaken over time. It will be altered by future experiences, until what I envision when I try to recall it will only be a faint reflection of what I actually feel. Eventually, this pain won’t overwhelm me, and I will finally be able to let go. Eventually.
X Ambassadors – Unsteady
If there was a study on chart music themes, obvious topics like love, sex, breakups and various rebellious behaviours would top the list. One subject that wouldn’t have nearly as big a blip on that graph is divorce. Even rarer would be how divorce damages children. Unsteady is from the point of view of a very young boy, pouring out the agonising, conflicting emotions he felt, begging his feuding parents to stay together. The heart ripping plea “Mama, come here / Approach / Appear / Daddy / I’m all alone” made me weep. And then came the dragon, divorce, breathing it’s scorching fire “Cause this house don’t feel like home / If you love me don’t let go / Mother, I know / You’re tired of being alone / Dad, I know you’re trying to fight / When you feel like flying / But if you love me / Don’t let go.”
Rosi Golan – Hazy (feat. William Fitzsimmons)
Rosi Golan works the same territory as Sarah McLachlan. This Isreali born, Brooklyn bred singer/songwriter produces pleasant folk pop that you can hear being played in random touching moments in television shows. I myself heard her first on One Tree Hill and her voice and lyrics piqued my interest as it sounded exactly like the kind of music I wanted to listen to those days. For the confused, increasingly guarded and the heartbroken, the song with its vanilla melody, pristine instrumentation and sweet but persuasive vocals, offers an effective sanctuary. When listening to this, I want to let out a sigh and question the reasons why we are alone.
Jack Johnson – Cocoon
From his second album, On and On, singer/songwriter/surfer Jack Johnson wrote his most emotional song back in 2003. I first heard it in an ex-girlfriend’s car and she used this song to get over her past love. This song is about a couple who just ended a very deep relationship in which he broke into pieces. He didn’t want to believe that he was being used as a temporary fix. He believed they were each other’s cocoon and from their comfort within, they would grow into beautiful butterflies. She did, and then she flew away leaving him to wither alone.
Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs – Are We Really Through
Since 2004, Ray LaMontagne, who might get unfairly pinned down as just another bearded folkie, has put out a string of resonant and highly emotional records, each with songs that range from uplifting and lovable to gut-wrenching and sorrowful. God Willin’ & The Creeks Don’t Rise is a departure from his usual influence of 60’s soul & R&B. This song deals with the coming to terms with the end of love, probably the saddest thing after death in a man’s existence.
Kodaline – All I Want
Irish quartet Kodaline rode the folk wave with this song from their self-titled debut EP. The melancholic lyrics & vocals, juxtaposed with a relatively sunny melody make for a unique listen that’s undoubtedly going to get stuck in your head. It is reminiscent of Mumford & Sons or the Lumineers for first-time listeners but Kodaline maintain their own spin on the sound. It’s somewhat minimalist till the track builds into a soul-stirring refrain during the last bridge. “All I want is nothing more / to hear you knocking on my door/cause if I could see your face once more / I would die a happy man I’m sure.” The song is like Irish coffee. It’s strong and will give you a buzz and some energy, but ultimately relaxing to the heart.
The Tony Rich Project – Nobody Knows
This song released in 1996 and reached #2 on the Billboard charts just behind Celine Dion’s Because You Loved Me, proving the existence of the millions of broken hearts even before the era of the Internet. I first heard it on the radio in London as a 16-year-old dealing with unrequited love, and I found myself crooning to it every time I was alone, praying hard that she knew too.
Janis Joplin – Piece Of My Heart
Featured as #71 on the top 100 classic rock songs of all time on Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin is one of only a few female artists featured on this list. But as Jim Morrison stated, Joplin wasn’t intimidated by any man, woman or child. Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister, who first recorded Piece Of My Heart in 1967 didn’t recognise Joplin’s rendition of the song when she first heard it on the radio. This little twenty-something white girl from Texas was daring her listeners to “take it, break it and have another piece” of her heart while her band electrified a sound that would later get coined as ‘Acid Rock’.
Joshua Radin – What If You
Zach Braff’s best friend, whose music debuted on the TV show Scrubs back in 2004 was battling with depression and the upbeat feeling of being in love at the same time when he wrote this song. He called it “The soundtrack of your suicide”. It sparkles with childlike innocence and weeps with adult heartbreak and Radin’s soft, plaintive voice is filled with genuine feeling.
Sanders Bohlke – Take Your Leaving Slow
His self titled debut in 2006 was an acoustic, stripped-down delight, full of meandering melodies and home of the sob worthy Take Your Leaving Slow. “And this I am certain / If you just close the curtain / I can make you call my name again.” Bohlke’s music is very similar to Ray Lamontagne’s with a pinch of Alexi Murdoch. His lyrics are poetic, tinged with bittersweet memories and very little hope for the future and his voice has a strong range, capable of reaching a falsetto pitch that Justin Timberlake would envy. This breakup song, which features a mournful harmonica has a sweet reference to Etta James in it.
Rekha Bharadwaj – Phir Le Aaya Dil
I first heard this song at Vijay Kumar Singh’s (Head of TWF post-production) reception, under the stars as Gaurav Chopra sang a cover of it to my guitar in a friend’s farmhouse garden. I then went home and watched Barfi just to hear Rekha Bharadwaj’s folksy penetrative vocals in this classical Urdu ghazal. Swanand Kirkire’s lyrics are nurtured with expressive words like “mayasar, badastoor, musalsal” that lends a strong bridge of communication in emoting out every sensitive sentiment.