I am what you call a music whore. If I want to be more specific, an iPod whore. The radio frustrates me to no end and a CD of the same artist becomes too redundant and boring too quickly. So, iPod it is and it must be my own. Even then I tend to flip through a bunch of songs at a time to impulsively and randomly choose songs that are acceptable to listen to at the time…which endlessly annoys my partner.
Whiskey Lullaby by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss sounds out briefly and before I can skip it, my partner quickly turns it up and I roll my eyes. Of course, this is the emo song he decides to insist upon. We sing to it and he mentions that it’s a good song he would typically listen to for artistic inspiration. So I choose to play another song that I know makes him tear up, sensitive little empath that he is: Oklahoma by Billy Gilman. Twice the inspiration for him, I tease.
Toward the end, my partner starts bringing up how music affects him. He asks me if I ever get this particular feeling in my face from emotionally riveting things. I had no clue what he was asking. No, I can’t say I’ve ever felt something in my face. He proceeds to explain to me the feeling/reaction, how it stretches through his face and to the back of his skull.
I try to supply analogies and descriptions to better grasp what the hell he’s trying to tell me: like a sinus infection? No, not like a pressure. Fuzzies? (I’m now imagining moldy fuzz spreading inside the sinuses of his face. That doesn’t seem like it would feel pleasurable.) Kinda? It resonates through your head? Yeah, yeah that’s a good word for it.
I went back to him a little while later to get some more clarification on what this reactive feeling he gets. This is what he came up with:
It starts off small, and it basically feels like the beginning of when your arm hair raises but it’s in my face. It never covers the front of my face. It starts underneath my skin at my jaw or sometimes the back of my head and blossoms out and around. It resonates. And if I kinda just concentrate on it I kinda shudder. Beyond that it’s just the way it feels…basically it…it’s like a wave of emotions.
At this, I look at him dubiously. He continues on, trying to get the right words out.
Just like something just kinda crashes into me from the inside of me, out. Does that make sense?
I continue to stare at him, silently egging him. I’m getting a better picture of this Connection Feeling, but I like to make him feel nervous, like he’s doing a bad job, to see what else comes out of him. Sometimes I’ll get poetry. Other times, well, not so much.
It’s like…alright, picture this: it’s like water rushing out of a one-way valve and pretend there’s a “C” right here (he holds his hand out in front of him in the shape of the letter), a wall here (his other hand comes out, standing up flat), the water rushes through the wall, goes up the “C” to curve back and hit me, then hits the inside, too, so it’s like a whoosh! You’re just taking in what the person’s giving out and it amplifies inside of you.
Just in your head, I ask.
Arms, top of my spine through my neck, and my head and part of my face. Sometimes I feel like how the other person feels…but worse. Like, I see them sad over there and I’m devastated.
My answer to him in the car, by the way, was no. I absolutely love music and by extension musicals. I love movies and certain television shows. While I primarily enjoy comedies and sci-fi/fantasy type movies, I tend to favor emotional stories, stories with very good depth. Even more so when it comes to musicals and songs. Music especially, I love. I constantly sing along to everything on my iPod. I am well acquainted with most things percussion, I play the piano, and I’m currently self-teaching myself the cello.
But do I resonate with any of it? I don’t and I have no recollection of ever resonating with anything, particularly in the way my partner attempted to describe. I will, however, have reactions. The most common of reactions being the arm hair raising, usually during musicals numbers. The other reaction I’ve experienced would be crying and this is always caused by movies. I never cry without having the full experience of a story: the visual, the situation, the scoring or accompanying song. If a scene tells its story so well that I am focused so intently on what’s happening, then I’ve found that I can zero in on the dominating emotion, like tuning into a specific frequency. And cry. But it is never intense. I am never sad for the character. I am sad for myself, thinking that yes, this would be a sad thing to happen to me. Though while I am going through a brief sad moment, my partner is next to me going through a trauma and wanting to hold and comfort the character.
It’s not that I can’t feel emotions. They are just very shallow and superficial. My thoughts are typically turned inward and I don’t make much effort to relate to others. I’m closest to my partner, I pay the most attention to him, but he’s told me that no matter what we’re talking about, even if I’m making eye contact with him and really focused on him, it always seems that I’m somewhere else. I’m taking in what he’s saying, but since 98 per cent of it is nothing but babble and redundancy I tend to devote only a portion of my attention to him. He’s long since used to it and knows the attention I give him is a lot compared to what I usually give others.
Now, why the hair raising? And yes, the nipple hardening. The two usually go together so let’s keep the reaction realistic. There is a theory that claims the amygdala, a little structure in the limbic system of the brain responsible for processing emotion, intense emotional behavior such as aggression and fear, and motivation, responds uniquely to music. It seeps into the striatum, those ancient neural pathways for reward, triggering the wonderful neurotransmitter called dopamine and affecting us in the same way sex and gambling can.
This is important in special relation to psychopaths. The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl, goes into depth on the anatomical explanation of the psychopath. In short, Dr. Kent spent decades on his research and was a pioneer in utilizing fMRI and portable MRI machinery to scan the brains of hundreds of inmates who met the criteria for psychopathy via the Psychopathy Checklist. The scans led to the discovery that the majority of subjects who met this criteria displayed a significant abnormality in the same area of the brain, namely, the paralimbic system.
This region of the brain is primarily associated with regulating attention, motivation, self-control, and emotion. According to Kiehl, his studies show that psychopaths have a 5 to 10 per cent reduced grey matter in and around these regions, resulting in severe impairment. The chief affected structure is the amygdala and when it fails to function properly the person has an impaired ability to respond to threat of punishment, perform clear, moral judgments, and grasp the emotional implications of behavior.
So why, oh why, would a psychopath be inclined toward music at all? It’s said that about 50 per cent of people experience chills when listening to music. Do psychopaths appropriately fall under this half and half chance or do they, once more, fall into their own category? If music is supposed to be emotionally charged, then would it really catch the prolonged attention, much less adoration, of the psychopath?
Dr. Oliver Sachs was involved in the case of an extremely talented psychopath who composed very emotionally charged music. Dr. Sachs speculated that the music enabled him to tap into the recesses of the brain otherwise closed off: the paralimbic region. I believe the psychopath used his talent to compose original pieces by essentially sewing together facsimiles of what he’s already heard. But I also believe that he was able to do this convincingly because the music was able to reach the amygdala and massage it in such a way to provide the insight.
On top of being musically-inclined myself I am also talented in drawing and painting and carving, but I admit my talent has always been superficial in the fact that I can copy things very well but my creativity is lacking. Even in music I am much better in percussion for the rhythms rather than easily tapping into a melody. There isn’t anything that resonates with me in the way my partner was describing that would inspire the originality. I have ideas that can lead to other ideas but I cannot say I’ve ever been truly inspired.
But I try. Oh, I try, because learning tools aside, I feel the music do something. I steer away from Christmas music, most country, sappy songs and soul songs, Christian music. These genres are usually centered on extreme emotion and, in my opinion, try too hard to be emotional. It sounds fabricated and unnecessarily “deep”. I still prefer music that sounds genuine and while it doesn’t “move” me, it gives me an appreciation that I haven’t found with other things.
Perhaps it really does stroke that little part of my lizard brain and creates a weak bridge of dopamine-soaked pleasure between the parts that don’t like to work and the rest that goes about everyday life without ever knowing it’s incomplete.