There was a study done a few years back concerning the effect of different kinds of music on different people’s brain activity. The gist of the study is that a large majority of people feel happy when they hear ‘happy’ music and sad when they hear ‘sad’ music, whereas a small minority feel sad when they hear ‘happy’ music and happy when they hear ‘sad’ music. It is safe to say that I fit into the minority group of that study.
My favourite band, the band I have listened to the most consistently and with the most enjoyment, is the Red House Painters. Mark Kozelek’s songs of sad-core introversion and whimsical outsider observations have been the defining soundtrack of my life, providing much needed solace when low of spirits and devoid of positive momentum. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to state that his music has acted as a guiding force, frequently enabling my progress from despair to emotional equilibrium. Indeed, during times of great personal crisis and suffering I inevitably find myself drawn back to the tender embrace of his music, where consolation and compassion are so sweetly contained.
Great music has the ability to calm and comfort the deepest and most incommunicable parts of us, somehow both soothing our hurts and providing needed distraction from their cause and symptoms. Through the cooling power of indirect and voiceless communication, the inexpressible can be accessed and accepted without confrontation or conflict. Music is the great negotiator of our emotional turmoil – it provides resolution without force and surrender without abject cowardice.
Gillian Welch once said that a good song says ‘everything and nothing’ – I would expand on this to say that a great song says everything we don’t know how to say while saying nothing in particular. It is this beautiful ambiguity that, for me, provides such therapeutic relief and a sense of transcendent solidarity.
Mark Kozelek has continued to make wonderful music since the Painters, and while I love most of it, I doubt I will ever fully move on from those early albums – for it was in the confines of their introverted beauty that I first found my own soul, released from heartache by the words and music of heartache.
RHP photo source: ianuaries.blogspot.com