I do not consider myself a person who is overly inspired by music. I freeze up whenever someone asks me if I have a favorite band. My iTunes is filled with old songs that I purchased in middle school (every album Taylor Swift has ever produced and some Green Day), and I do not listen to music when I write. Still, I find the connection between music, writing, and art to be a fascinating one, particularly when considering how greatly music can shape our lives. Personally, hearing the opening notes of a certain song can transport me to another place and time. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey brings me back to high school dances: loud music, dark rooms, groups of my friends, our throats raw from scream-singing along. In contrast, I cannot listen to the song “Nine in the Afternoon” by Panic! at the Disco anymore because it reminds me of a friendship that ended badly. When I listen to it, I always feel a tightening in my chest and an anxious flutter in my stomach.
I am not alone in these experiences. The connection between identity and music is addressed in a wonderfully engaging essay found in Artful Dodge 50/51, where Joel Lee tackles the linkage between music and self in his idiosyncratic memoir, “Self: A Musical.” Lee uses the frame of nine different albums to explain how he sees himself and how he has grown as a person. With the help of laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes achingly raw, personal anecdotes, Lee takes the reader on a journey through not only his taste in music, but his struggles with depression and his search for meaning in his own life.
“I demanded an answer for pretty much everything,” Lee writes, “and in this case the best anyone could tell me was that I had a chemical imbalance. I had no trauma to blame, no horrific youth, no terrible tragedy to lament. I merely had neurons that somehow didn’t go where they were supposed to land.” I was moved by this simple explanation of depression because I think that, like other invisible illnesses, depression is often stigmatized. We want clear, concrete reasons for why we are feeling a certain way, and sometimes, as Lee points out, there is simply no complex, tragic answer. However, Lee stresses that music provided something of a relief from the frustrations of his diagnosis. He explains that an album titled I Get Wet by Andrew W.K. “saved [his] life.” Music gave him a “sense of solidarity” in a time “where [he] was desperate to feel something, anything…when [he] felt absolutely no ability to connect with the world around [him].” In fact, Lee’s story not only inspired me to diversify my own iTunes library, but also prompted me to think more deeply about how I manage tumultuous emotions and how I interact with my friends and family who have depression. Lee’s essay is a testament to the power of music in our lives, celebrating its ability to shape our interactions with the world around us and its capacity to help us understand ourselves.
—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor