Ever have those moments where you go to write one thing, and then the first paragraph spills off into something completely different?
No? Maybe just me then.
This post was supposed to be the start of a new series here on the blog discussing what bands I’m listening to and loving right now that you may not have encountered – but absolutely should go out of your way to check out. And then the first paragraph mutated into an entire eulogy about my love of music in general and how important it is to me as an art form.
Oops. Never mind, let’s roll with that.
Fun fact; my first real blogging endevour was a music blog, way back in 2009. What started as a way to vent about how disappointed I was in Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown album (a record I’m a bit more kind to these days, incidentally) quickly became a place where I’d review the underground ska and punk shows I was going to on the regular, as well as the records I was listening to at the time. Should you want a good laugh, click here – reading it back now is an exercise in not cringing myself inside out, but ultimately it’s my blogging origin story and I’m proud that it exists in the first place.
It’s also part of a lifelong love I’ve had of music.
I’m one of those ‘music has always been a big part of my life’ types. Hearing rock ‘n’ roll compilation tapes and Britpop anthems on the radio when I was very little, learning to play guitar when I was 12 years old, raiding my parents’ record boxes for punk, classic rock and 80s new-wave vinyls in my teens, the aforementioned gigs and mixtapes of my late-teens, right up to spending most afternoons at university in the record shop in Greenwich buying far too many vinyls and CDs. I even remember the very first record I bought in there; Bad Company’s 1975 album Straight Shooter. And as I’m typing this, the intro riff to the opening track, Good Loving Gone Bad, is looping in my head. It’s a banger.
No-one ever believed me when I said alcohol wasn’t the reason I was broke at uni.
Wanna know how I know how big a deal music is to me? I can, for the most part, tie it to my mental health. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as my mental health has peaked and troughed, so has the amount of music I take in and consume at any one time. When I’m in a good place mentally, I have the energy and curiosity to actively seek out new sounds, and there’s few things better than discovering and falling in love with records and artists for the first time. Conversely when I’m in a bad place, the world feels like far too much to deal with, and I retreat into my shell with the comfort blanket of old favourites – and sometimes, even the classics feel like too much effort to take in.
At first, such a link between my music habits and mental health felt absurd. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it’s made absolute sense; to the point that nowadays, I try to keep exploring and taking in music even when I’m having bad brain days or weeks or months. At the very least, it’s something to drown out the noise and cut through the fog in my brain. And at the most, it could even lead to me finding the lyrics and melodies that help lift the clouds altogether.
Does this all sound like the most cliched nonsense you’ve ever heard? Maybe, but it doesn’t stop it being true for me.
Let’s conclude this waxing lyrical by talking a little bit about stimming. According to Wikipedia, ‘stimming is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or words, or the repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities and most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders. It is considered a protective response to over-stimulation, in which people calm themselves by blocking less predictable environmental stimuli, to which they have a heightened sensitivity.’
I myself am on the autism spectrum, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 9, and although it took me another 17 years to actually learn what stimming is, it turns out I’d been doing it my entire life – in healthy and sometimes unhealthy ways. And guess what? Some of the healthier stims revolve around – you guessed it – music. They can range from the fairly innocuous – head bobbing and foot tapping, we all do that right? – through to subtle air guitar motions with my hands, mouthing the lyrics, tapping the beat out with my teeth, timing my footsteps to the rhythm, and even lowkey dancing and shuffling my feet. Entire music videos can play out in my head, mostly ones I’ve imagined in the moment. And most importantly, I can be in the most hectic and bustling of places with all sorts of environmental stimuli that could be affecting or over-stimulating me, and with my headphones in none of it can get in. Music isn’t just a world to escape into, but sometimes, it’s even a little protective shield.
Yeah, I get the odd funny look on a tube station platform, but that’s okay; it’s just me, myself and the music.
And that’s the only thing that matters sometimes.