‘Life is hard
And so am i
You’d better give me something
So i don’t die…’
Eels – Novocaine For the Soul, 1996
I think anyone who writes or creates listens to an immense amount of music. It feeds the creative frenzy, it fuels emotional states and for me, it silences the raging jumble discordance of racing thoughts. It passes time when one is trapped within the mundane, such as squashed in a crowded train; or staring at the red tail-lights of the car in front a traffic jam. It fills the mind and body with a surge of energy – this can be enlivening, melancholy, angry or joyous. The Eels’ song quoted above often fills me with a sense that life does suck…but it has hardened me, which helps me attack my trials with enthusiasm and lust for winning. But it also confronts that side of me that wants to be numb and emotionless. It is the duality that gives me pause on a daily basis, often when I listen to music, write or create in other ways. It is these relatively slow moments where one is confronted with their nature, good and bad, light and dark – and as Hannah Arendt suggests in her political philosophy, the regular person must realise the power they contain to commit evil – as evil is indeed mundane and normal. If society is to learn anything from atrocities such as Nazism, people must accept their own potential for wrongdoing – or at very least, ignoring the wrongs committed by others.
I do not mean to be moralising here, rather, to recognise that to be human is to have grey shading, alongside the white/black dichotomies we often imagine to colour the social. For example, social biologists such as Professor Bernard Heinrich, who mostly is known for the intelligent behaviour of ravens, argues that humans have strong emotions towards the raven due to the animal’s likeness to humans. We are opportunistic, invasive and loud…so are they. I have German and Scottish/British ancestry and I often joke that I feel kinship with the ravens because my ancestors may have associated them with the spoils of war – that is, seeing them crowd on the corpses of the enemy and caw triumphantly to celebrate their feast…and subsequently, construct a morbid chorus on the blood-drenched battleground. The raven was reviled, unfairly, for its perceived association with the Black Plague as it feasted on the fallen ill…and this cultural depiction saw many culled. However, sympathetic British royalty in the Victorian era (which dynasty exactly, is disputed) sought to protect the bird and secured a sanctuary for ravens at the Tower of London, where captive ravens are kept, and cared for, to this day. This continues the mythological importance of the raven, and its significance as a symbol or harbinger. The famous work of Poe, and other Gothic writers/artists, only furthered its image as a magical or powerful creature.
Worldwide (in all countries but New Zealand), the raven continues to thrive in a symbiotic relationship with humans, enjoying the spoils of our wasteful and often messy society. Their image, or call, is still extensively used – such as in music or film to signify death or danger. The emotive response in many people is culturally embedded – but, is it also part of one’s nature? Arguing against Locke’s ‘tabula rasa’, do some persons innately associate the screams of the raven with loss of war, Black Death or other negative emotions?
This proposition brings me back to my original contention about music and emotion. Since my early teenage years, I have enjoyed heavy metal, hard rock, industrial and black metal. This has confounded many people I know because (a) I am female and (b) they assume something is very wrong with me to enjoy aggressive music. I do enjoy self-analysis and reflection but I am not quite sure about agreeing to suggestions that there might be something wrong with me. I actually feel calmer after listening to angry or morbid music. It creates a positive outlet for me and often assists in creating a specific creative mind-frame, which engrosses me in my work. My days without music are often barren, depressing and I feel like I am missing an essential part of who I am. I gravitate towards music with honest lyrics (such as the works of Nick Cave, Josh Homme, Jack White and Alison Mossheart) – and also, music that presents societal norms as problematic (like Megadeth and System of a Down/Serj Turkian). It makes me feel less alone and like perhaps what I feel isn’t so bad…and it drives me towards fulfilling my creative desires and working hard, which makes me feel good.
Hence, arguments against music, particularly attempts to implicate artists such as Marilyn Manson in horrific events such as the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999, disturb me. Should artists be pinned with the responsibility of the actions of the evil and/or severely mentally disturbed? I strongly disagree. I am an opponent of censorship and believe that most attempts to condemn art are the imposition of the will from powerful ‘moral’ institutions with their own warped interests. Here lies the problem inherent in totalitarian worldviews and mass culture. And perhaps, it even begins to suggest how regimes such as Nazism become readily accepted. The onerous thinking associated with binary right/wrong may be what instills a Sisyphean desire for ‘perfect’ in the social world.
Thanks for reading; please feel free to share your views and comments 🙂