MY RELATIONSHIP WITH music is often considered bizarre, mostly because of the weird shit I say about it. Things like, “I want to eat this song I love it so much” or “I’d like to float in a pool of this music” and “I need to lie down in a dark room alone in order to listen to this song”. Some of this can be explained by the fact that I have mild synesthesia, which is a condition where sensory experiences overlap. Some of it I cannot explain. I don’t know why I want to eat the song, I just do.
At this point, allow me to reassure you that I’m not mentally unstable (that I know of). Apparently these are normal sensations for someone with synesthesia. Some people see colors when they hear music, others hear tones when they read certain words. Some people even have certain numbers come through as particular colors.
Mine are strange and scattered neuro-crossings, sort of like back in the old days when telephone wires would cross and suddenly you’d hear someone else’s conversation. Sometimes when the wires cross in my brain it’s surprising and very beautiful, as if you were making a boring old phone call to tell your spouse to bring home milk, and instead you heard someone reading a poem so profound you got a lump in your throat.
With music, there are songs that overwhelm me physically. If it happens in a bad way, I can’t listen to the song. I have to turn it off or walk away. If I’m forced to listen, it’s a really painful experience. Not painful like it’s annoying, painful like a throbbing feeling in my legs or my chest or teeth. Sometimes colors distort. I can power through if I must, but it pretty much sucks.
When it’s good though, it’s really good. Good in a way that I would equivocate to being high on drugs, except I’ve never really been high enough to say so. Synesthesia is probably the reason I’ve never had much interest in drugs—my mind is expanded enough, thank you.
So I offer you three of my most sacred multi-sensory songs from the last few years, in no particular order. These are the songs that do something weird to me, that make me have to lie down in a dark room in order to listen, so that I don’t get overwhelmed.
They don’t really represent my music library, but there’s clearly something that links them. It’s hard to break down exactly what it is about any song that makes it physically evocative for me, and I sort of don’t want to figure it out because I like the visceral nature of the process, but I will try to describe it a bit here for you:
In this song, the twang and thwack of the guitar strings feels a bit like the movement of riding a train. Sort of. Nothing quite describes it. It makes my feet and hands tingle, like pins and needles… but in a good way. And there is a great blue-and-yellowness to it, too.
Then, in the middle of the song, the guitar stops and these great, weird lyrics come on… And because the guitar stops, so does the physical sensation, so I’m left with just the words:
Wild, tireless love
Fast in the free ether
And seething hot
Dark mirror shine
Swift to the backs of our eyes
Deep wanting eyes
And I don’t know why that all matters to me. If that were a poem, I might roll my eyes. But it works for me in the context of the song, and the sensations of the thwacking and strumming and the backing vocals and everything else.
Yeah, yeah, cue the groans over the world’s most beloved surly bearded hipster recluse. I know he’s wildly popular, and I know he sold a song to an insurance company or bank or something for an advertisement. It’s not about that. For me, this song is epic. Physically, it’s like rain falling. A tapping and a bluish greenish haze.
Lamontagne’s voice plays a role in this, too, but I can’t quite say what. I know I always feel a bit of a tightening in my throat from it… Like when you’re going to cry, but without the sadness. On top of that, it seems to be about your first real love, about the fierceness of loving the way only young people are stupid enough to do, and all the ways we fuck up when we walk on the edges of emotional cliffs like that.
The first time I heard this song, I nearly fell down. I had to pull the car over because of the tingling in my toes. Brandi Carlile’s background vocals definitely add to the overwhelming emotional pull, but there’s something physical to it too. It’s a sinking, a dropping, like the really fast elevator in the Sears tower. And there’s a darkness, an inky blue to it, too.
And while I fully recognize the ways in which this list makes me sound completely bat-shit, the truth is that I think most people who love music have at least a little bit of what I’m describing here. I’ve watched a friend of mine’s eyes roll back in her head with pleasure whenever she’d hear a favorite song. I’ve seen people freeze when hearing a great song for the first time, or when a favorite song comes on in the grocery store or at a bar. It’s like their body just wants to stop and take in the whole thing.
That sort of reaction is similar to what I experience. And it’s really, really great… Most of the time.
Listen to The Official Weeklings Power Trio Playlist on Spotify.