Comfort Music

jtSaturday night as I was driving home from our daughter’s house (about the only useful thing I’ve accomplished in the last week, thanks to the ulcerative colitis and the @&%^ drug that’s supposed to alleviate its symptoms) I was listening to a CBC summer radio program called Sample This. At the end of the show they said next week’s program would be about comfort music, and invited listeners to write in with their recommendations in that genre.

Naturally, this hit home with me. I’ve been trying to listen to music as one therapy to deal with the relentless cramping and insomnia that, together, are making the drug I’m taking to try to mitigate this disease worse than the disease itself. I now appreciate how sleep deprivation and sustained pain are the torture techniques of choice in Gitmo and the world’s other info extraction centres.

I went through my iTunes list and concluded that everything in my 800-song collection is comfort music, of one of four kinds:

  1. angry, defiant, get it out of your system music (subjectively comforting)
  2. distracting, uplifting, relating music that has personal meaning to you (subjectively comforting)
  3. songs whose lyrics are unambiguously intended to comfort, calm, soothe everyone (objectively comforting)
  4. grooving, transporting, get away from your cares instrumental music (objectively comforting)

It occurred to me that music has always been my stress therapy of choice. Alas, despite focusing on the latter two types and listening in the dark for nearly six hours, the cramps would not abate and sleep would not come.

But I did come up with a ‘top 12’ list of comfort songs. I also concluded that music of the first two types is too subjective to be of use to anyone else (I happen to find I’m Going to Go Back There Someday comforting, but my wife classifies it as ‘put him out of his misery quick’ music).

Even though I would guess these songs would be uncontroversial choices, it’s interesting how much our past experiences and emotions play into how we perceive music. I find most music, including a lot of classical and new age music, boring, and just want to hit the ‘forward to next’ button (not comforting). I’ve also recently come to appreciate the phenomenon (among us old fogies) of so-called ‘smooth jazz’, by which they mean generally jazz that’s not too ambitious, inaccessible or loud, and which doesn’t require careful listening or a study of the genre’s history to appreciate.

I prefer to have to work a little bit when I listen to music — what comforts me is needing to pay attention to the music, which distracts me from less pleasant current realities.

Anyway, here is the list. I’m not especially looking for additional suggestions, though if you have a favourite of the third or fourth type I may give it a listen (and other readers may be less picky than I am and appreciate your suggestions). We could all do with less stress, especially the pointless stress that doesn’t help us cope or accomplish anything better anyway.

Type 3 Calming Music (with calming melody and comforting lyrics):

  • Shower the People, by James Taylor (pictured above)
  • Bridge over Troubled Water, by Simon & Garfunkel
  • Willow, by Joan Armatrading
  • Happy Man, by Chicago
  • Heal Over, by KT Tunstall

Type 4 Transporting Music (instrumental):

  • Sarah Victoria, by Acoustic Alchemy
  • Zungulake, by Quatre Etoiles (it has lyrics, but they’re in a Zairian language, so since nobody knows what they mean they don’t count)
  • Variations on a Theme of Erik Satie, by Blood Sweat & Tears (guitar/flute version of Satie’s first GymnopÈdie)
  • Sand Sea & Time, by Bruce Cockburn
  • Samba Pa Ti, by Carlos Santana
  • Song With No Words, by David Crosby (brilliant 60s jam by 30 of the best musicians of the day)
  • Smooching, by Mark Knopfler (from the Local Hero soundtrack)

I think it says a lot that most of the composers of these songs have struggled with more than their share of demons in their lives. Comfort, the kind that really matters, perhaps doesn’t come easy.

Pass it on.

PS: Lots of notes scattered everywhere for blog posts, but right now I don’t have my head together enough to compose anything coherent and useful, so you’ll have to content yourself with these silly littleposts. Hope to be back to more substantial posting soon.

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4 Responses to Comfort Music

  1. David Parkinson says:

    Right off the bat: you need (NEED) some Popol Vuh ). It’s some of the best, most calming and downright beautiful music ever made. Also, I would recommend looking into this album by the Cocteau Twins & pianist Harold Budd. Gorgeous stuff.There’s lots more out there too, but so much is dependent on taste and mood and such…

  2. anon says:

    Hearts of Space is great comfort music! NPR Sunday evenings around here. Wrote all the drafts of a PhD thesis to it! Great stuff.

  3. I like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” too. I tend to go for soft instrumental music for comfort. I have some Spanish guitar that I like a lot, and a CD called “Celtic Twilight” with a mix of artists. Also some classical music that I find soothing.I hope your health problems give you relief soon. I’ve battled frequent migraines for years, and as I’ve aged I’ve added on a few other ailments. (That sounds terrible to say “aged” when I’m only 49.) They can be so distracting from what I want to do–that’s my biggest complaint about them.

  4. SB says:

    Dave, so sorry to read these recent posts. I empathize, as you will know. Bach. Goldberg Variations. Anything, really, that’s not played on an organ. I adore Bach; I don’t adore organ music. Another life dilemma…

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