Why Does Music Cut To Your Soul (or Crying?! at U2 Concerts)?

It happened again. I may lose my Manly-Man card*. I saw one of my favorite bands in the world yesterday, U2, in Oakland….. When they were about 3/4 through their set, they played “Miss Sarajevo” and then were talking about The Universal Declaration of Human Rights & torture. I found my self getting really sad and angry at the state of the world (Dick Cheney, Go to hell. Seriously) & then they kicked into a beautiful & rockin’ version of “Pride in the Name of Love”. I found myself crying at a rock concert…

This happened last time I saw U2 as well. It was about 6 months after 9/11 & I thought I was relatively OK. But they were talking about the World Trade Centers, some visuals on their screen were about all the people who died, and they kicked in to some song & I lost it.

I think about the world a lot, I get angry, sad, sometimes hopeful, but I rarely cry. What is it about U2 concerts? Really what is it about music in general that effects us? How does it get such a mainline connection to our emotions?

Pete Townshend (another musical hero) talks about exaltation in rock and roll from time to time. He talks about how at rock concerts there is often an amazing transcendent feeling of exaltation (yes in the religious sense) that is wonderful and powerful. A connection to something greater. I think that is related. Few things have the power to enhance my mood, self-confidence, clarify my vision than the perfect song at the perfect moment. Come to think of it, few things hit me so powerfully after a bad break up, too…

Also as a science geek, I REALLY wonder what it is that makes us enjoy music and dancing on a biological level? Seriously, next time you are at a dance club, spend a few minutes watching everyone in the crowd as they dance. Look how happy they are & often how pure and undiluted that happiness is. It’s one of my favorite things. And it makes me wonder… all of our behavior is either evolutionarily adaptive or a byproduct of such adaptive behaviors. So is music/dance appreciation somehow adaptive? Or is it just a fun side-effect of something else – like when you scratch a dog’s belly & he happily moves his leg. Is it a music reflex – just message a few neurons the right way with vibration & you get an endorphin response? But how would that explain dancing? Endlessly fascinating! I’d love some answers…(If anyone has any thoughts or know of any studies lemme know by adding a comment.)

UPDATES: In addition to a brief interview with Bono from today’s SF Chronicle which sums up his work in Africa & why I luvs me some Bono, the Paris bureau (my cousin Mandeep in Paris) has dropped some knowledge on the situation with two links below…..

U2’s Bono makes fiery case for rocking the world with ambitious mission to eradicate global misery
(SF Chronicle Friday, November 11, 2005)
If there’s one thing Irish rocker and citizen of the world Bono knows, it’s how to open a show. He proved that earlier this week when he sat down to talk about his efforts to fight disease and poverty in Third World countries: He launched into the topic with The Chronicle’s editorial board by praising the Bush administration….

Sexual selection through mate choice is almost unfairly powerful as an evolutionary explanation for things like music that seem impressive and attractive to us, but that seem useless for survival under ancestral conditions. The reason is that any feature you�re even capable of noticing about somebody else (including the most subtle details of their musical genius) is a feature that could have been sexually selected by our ancestors. If you can perceive the quality, creativity, virtuosity, emotional depth, and spiritual vision of somebody�s music, then sexual selection through mate choice can notice it too, because the perceptions of ancestors with minds like yours were literally the agents through which sexual selection operated. If both musical tastes and musical capacities were genetically heritable (as practically all behavioral traits are — see Plomin et al., 1997), then runaway sexual selection would have had no trouble in seizing upon early, primitive, acoustic displays and turning them over thousands of generations into a species-wide adaptation known as music.

The short answer is that the composer’s neural system, the physiological bases of his emotions and perceptions, are the same as those of the performer, the conductor or the responsive listener. The composer draws the structure and the power of his composition from the same structures as determine the impact of his work. In the same way as bird-song and the response to bird-song have been shown to use directly related neural structures (Nottebohm et al. 1990) and as there are direct neural links between speech production and speech perception (Liberman and Mattingly 1985), so music-production and music-perception are two faces of the same neural complex. The structure of the composed music, the emotive and other effects the melody and harmony have, are, on this view, derived from the neural patterning associated with the composer’s non-musical experience, the neural record of his own life, his own emotions and perceptual organisation, and bodily feelings of all kinds.

*Luckily college basketball season is upon us & I will gain back many Manly-Man points watching sports! Go Blue Devils! (Duke!!!!)

2 thoughts on “Why Does Music Cut To Your Soul (or Crying?! at U2 Concerts)?

  1. One of my earliest run-ins with the power of music, was chanting the Our Father prayer at the Silverdome when Pope John Paul II came to detroit in the early 80s. It was pretty amazing.

    The ugliest moments were at a Pink Floyd concert — it suddenly struck me as they were playing something from the Wall, and people were crossing their arms above their heads and chanting — that I was like “wait!” isn’t this the kind of mob action that the music is speaking against? why the heel are we imitating the fascists in the movie? It got worse when some guys behind us start making comments about an older gay couple that were standing right by us. Is no one here actually LISTENING to the music?

    So I think there is a darker flipside to that exaltation we can feel, and I wonder if music and chanting were part of Hitler’s success in all those huge rallies he held. Somebody, I can’t remember who, said that it would probably be just as amazing and moving if 50,000 people sang the Micky Mouse song. The Pink Floyd experience, I think is no small part of why I dislike and am suspicious of concerts and crowds.

    And I think movie makers and television producers, this American life producers, are well aware of how music can guide our emotions well beyond the value of the story — Jerry Bruckheimer being the ultimate master.

  2. music is so meaningful to me. i feal if every day. it like is is part of who i am. i can feel it in my soal. music always fill me with some kind of emotion i don’t know why it just does.

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