Saturday, June 30, 2012

We are the Music Makers

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.

- Arthur O’Shaughnessy, The Music-Makers
There is ample evidence in the scientific community to support the notion that music can enrich your life. The very act of listening to music alters the brain in ways that scientists are only beginning to understand. Listening to music engages our cognitive faculties and in subtle ways provides a creative impetus for those tuned into such seemingly abstract concepts as a Muse. Creativity, it is believed, is best acted out with active neural circuits, which, like our muscles, require exercise. Music helps exercise the brain, as do other activities such as reading, writing, painting, and of course, the playing of music.  
A creative person should be at the height of effectiveness when all the neurons are firing. At least that’s one scientific explanation I’ve heard, and it does make sense. Some scientists believe that the brain responds better to music than to basic language structures. There is certainly a profound connection between memory and music. Music helps children recall basic facts such as the order of letters in the alphabet.
The pure enjoyment of music also triggers memories. Most of us can easily recall the first time we heard a favorite song. Those of us that grew up during the counter-culture revolution of the 60s were inundated with a remarkable musical experience. Music became the center-piece of our lives. I can recall with startling clarity when the first time I heard Elvis Presley singing In the Ghetto in April or May, 1969. I think that was the year The Beatles sang Hey Jude. It is with fondness that I can remember listening to Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run, eagerly flipping over the album to play side two (and careful not to scratch it), thoroughly pleased with the money I spent on an album now universally acclaimed as a masterpiece. I knew it was a masterpiece from the moment I first heard it. I’ve been fortunate to see the legendary Jimmy Buffett up close and personal many times and I can easily begin humming A Pirate Looks at Forty. I remember his early albums with equal fondness for his later work.
Music has always been a part of my life. I listen to all types of music just as I read all types of books. I refuse to limit myself. I don’t understand people that intentionally limit their experiences by sticking with one thing. They are not creative at all, and it shows.
People love to talk about music. Mention a certain artist or a song and you’ll immediately find yourself reminiscing about your musical favorites. For example, I can tell you emphatically that Stranger in My Own Home Town recorded by Elvis on February 17th 1969 is an neglected classic. Put this one on the CD player while driving and you’ll have a hard time keeping your foot off the gas pedal. Released on the Album Elvis – Back in Memphis, I don’t believe Stranger in My Own Home Town was ever released as a single. It was simply a damn good song (written by Percy Mayfield) recorded by Elvis to help fill an album. And Elvis had many such songs, little jewels he recorded that can only be found on albums. Take a listen to Long Black Limousine and True Loves Travels on a Gravel Road, both found on From Elvis in Memphis. He did a nice version of Early Morning Rain for Elvis Now and Got My Mojo Workin can be found on Love Letters from Elvis. And let’s face it, the Elvis version of Danny Boy from the album From Elvis Presley Boulevard Memphis Tennessee is a certifiable classic.
Then, of course, we have The Beatles, the greatest rock and roll band of all time. I know The Rolling Stones have claimed that distinction, and they certainly are great, but The Beatles are the greatest. Period. Some people like the early Beatles better than the later Beatles and vice versa. I like it all. Abbey Road is their best album, but then so is Rubber Soul and Revolver. And any discussion of The Beatles will lead you into a discussion about the solo careers of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. To put the matter at rest, they were all great but Paul McCartney is the number one single important songwriter and musician in the last one hundred years. Many others come close in any subjective historical assessment, but McCartney is at the top. His Band on the Run is equally as vital an album as Abbey Road or anything he did with The Beatles.
Are you one of those that saves his concert tickets as a keepsake? I am. I have tickets dating back to the 70s for concerts. Styx played at my High School. I’ve seen Three Dog Night all over Illinois. Neil Diamond, Elton John, Don McLean, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Alabama, Paul McCartney, and Jimmy Buffett are all favorite concert experiences. I saw Russell Crowe with his band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts at the Chicago Theater. I have a nice memory of seeing Crosby, Stills and Nash at the now vanished Poplar Creek Music Theater. Clint Black singing duets with Jimmy Buffett is another cherished memory. I recently saw Matthew and Gunnar Nelson in concert. I was fortunate to see the late Luciano Pavoratti twice. Muddy Waters in Chicago a year or so before he passed and BB King and other blues greats in those years I roamed the northside.
My den is overflowing with books and music CDs. I take pleasure in listening to it and I’ve made certain that I have ample choices to pick from. I have Korngold’s Warner Brothers film scores, Bob Marley, Paul Hardcastle, Stan Getz, Mumford and Sons, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Michael BublĂ©, Dave Brubeck, Rod Stewart, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Diana Krall, Van Morrison, Brian Setzer, The Allman Brothers and so many more.
As I wrote this I had Meet The Beatles on the CD player followed by John Fogerty and then some Diana Krall. There’s plenty more to listen to before the day is done. That’s a nice thought really; this idea that we can add quality to our lives simply by listening. Because at any given moment somewhere in the world a song is playing.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.

- William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, V, 1

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