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2:05 p.m. - Friday, Dec. 05, 2003
Music Hath Horrors to Turn the Savage Stomach
I'm undergoing psychological torture today in the form of an earworm. I don't know the name of the song or the identity of the evildoers who sang it. George Noory plays it sometimes as bumper music on Coast to Coast AM. Something about "Silver threads and golden needles cannot mend this heart of mine..." I despise this song with all my heart.

What I'm suffering here is the other edge of music's sword. I know I've ranted before about people who make diary entries consisting entirely of song lyrics, but I understand why they do it. Music has a power to communicate that surpasses expression. Proust commented on the fact that silly or pedestrian statements seem to take on greater meaning or dignity by virtue of being sung rather than spoken. James (and look, I've found another occasion to quote The Varieties of Religious Experience, am I not clever) says:

Music gives us ontological messages which non-musical criticism is unable to contradict, though it may laugh at our foolishness in minding them. There is a verge of the mind which these things haunt; and whispers therefrom mingle with the operations of our understanding, even as the waters of the infinite ocean send their waves to break among the pebbles that lie upon our shores.

So, yes, I understand that people quoting song lyrics are under the influence of the quasi-mystical state of mind that music evokes. When they're writing the lyrics in their diary, they're hearing the music and the mysterious meta-meaning that the music imparts. One problem is that I don't hear the music; all I see is a sequence of rather silly words on the computer screen.

Another problem is that music's communication is intensely personal, and personal tastes also enter into the process. And the "ontological messages" we receive from music may seem to come from Hell rather than Heaven. This "Silver threads" song must say something kind or wise to George Noory, but to the extent it speaks to me at all, it's a loud and tactless woman who dresses badly and wants to tell me all about her daughter's caesarian section when I want to be left in peace and quiet to read. I said that music's power to communicate surpasses expression, but so does its power to horrify. I can't really tell you why I hate this song so much, nor why its constant repetition in my mind causes me so much pain. I tell you, I have traumatic childhood memories that cause me less pain. It isn't that the song is associated in my mind with any negative memories, as sometimes happens, because I never heard it until George started playing it as bumper music. It isn't the repetition per se, either, as a single hearing of this song is painful.

I don't understand; I just suffer. This is the dark side of music's mysterious power.


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