This Addiction to Music
By Bill Graham - Special for the Mandolin Cafe
May 1, 2008 - 9:30 pm
Bill Graham is a freelance outdoor writer, photographer, bluegrass musician and singer-songwriter.
Music resonates in us, similar to how a tuning fork vibrates on and on after the steel is thumped.
Something moves, and keeps moving.
A difference between us and the tuning fork is that the vibrations in our nervous system lodge somewhere inside us and more energy, emotions and chemical reactions that carve dunes and ripples into our psyche.
Once tasted by the soul, a craving begins.
The tuning fork sits impassively, devoid of emotion or thought or chemical change until someone thumps it again.
But the human animal addicted to music does not wait for chance to thump the senses.
We turn a knob to make music appear, or we sing, or we manipulate strings and wood in ways to create harmonic sound that flows in patterns echoing something needy inside.
This is the only way I can explain the music addiction that so many of us share.
I know mine runs deep.
Maybe I heard my mother singing while I was in the womb, or notes from the little AM radio on the kitchen counter or the television in the living room, and the addiction started then.
I can remember the first time I was conscious of the joyous inner vibration music creates.
At about age two or three I discovered our early 1950s console television had a record player in a sliding drawer beneath the picture tube. I pestered my mom about it and she put a record on.
It was Eddy Arnold on a 78 rpm disc, one that I think probably had two songs per side, my favorite was the Missouri Waltz.
The music prickled my senses and mind from my toes to the tips of my hair follicles. I totally flowed with the melody and texture, my mind too young to understand lyric meanings. A sweet, buzzing sensation seemed to affect all the muscles in my stomach and chest, my thoughts were crystal clear and soaring.
When the record ended, I was sad, and I wanted to go back to that euphoric place.
So I pleaded and made my mom reset the clunky arm that held the record before it dropped onto the spinning wheel, and the music came again and I floated again to the magic place.
This was repeated over and over, probably for two or three hours until mom had finally had enough.
But music always grabbed my attention from then on.
I loved singing folk songs in grade school classes. The chills came back one night as our family watched and listened to the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. I'd never heard anything like it. Wondrous.
My parents listened to the breakfast-hour radio show that had '50s big-band pop as a backdrop to the news and weather. The Beatles made me realize there was a bigger musical world out there.
Childhood turned to teenhood and then manhood with the music that entered my ears going from Top 40 pop in the classic '60s vein to the LP vinyl albums I began buying that were primarily roots acoustic music, especially bluegrass, newgrass and Dawg music.
Everyone "liked" music in high school and college.
But about the time college ended and the era of responsibility began, I began to notice that some of us were different. We loved music and refused to live without it in massive doses.
Some people had a pile of LPs from their teen years, a few more from their getting-serious early-20 years, and that left them pretty well set for life as far a self-owned listening material.
The rest of us, though, noticed that even with racks of LPs and shoe boxes full of cassette tapes we were still unfulfilled. Sometimes with the right mood and perhaps if we hadn't heard it in awhile, a certain old sound could trigger the good stuff inside.
But the only sure score for recapturing the sweet vibe was a new album, or for many of us, playing music ourselves. Even the latter required new tunes in the repertoire now and then to work.
Music addicts find that as the years roll by toward middle age and beyond, the gap between them and the general listening masses grows wider.
While most families have a shelf or two of CDs around the house, the addict has hundreds, including those that they also own on vinyl LP but bought again to facilitate listening in the car.
At least acoustic musicians and fans have the festival as a support group. For a weekend or so, we are understood and not alone.
Nobody else confined in cubicles at my office has spent the equivalent of two or three good cars on a variety of musical instruments, just to get a variety of beautiful tones so as to increase the chances that the big vibe will occur to sooth or thrill the mind.
You see, my addiction has progressed.
While my appetite for new recordings now and then is insatiable, listening alone is never enough.
I've progressed to total dependence on the hard stuff, playing music, not just now and then, but every chance I can.
No matter that I shall never be a star. No matter that no one cares much about sharing music with the semi-pro hobby guy except his fellow addicts.
Playing music when I'm emotionally numb triggers good things and makes the moment alive. Music when I'm too emotional channels energy outward to keep me from exploding.
Music played in interaction with others heightens the potential for inner vibe and ends the loneliness. Music played alone is less lonely than nothingness.
I still sing the Missouri Waltz often and play it as an instrumental on mandolin, guitar or fiddle. It takes me somewhere good.
We might have been financially secure and more emotionally stable had our music addictions never started.
But I'm unwilling to live without the memories of what has been and the anticipation of what might be.
State of Missouri Official State Song