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Songs are People Too

If you don’t recognize the reference of the title, it’s based on a song from the old Wonderama TV show, “Kids are People Too”.

Since the latest U2 album was leaked (and subsequently released), there’s been a remarkable reaction, which has me thinking again about something that I’ve always found curious. The range of opinions on the album is extraordinary. Although the percentage of people who love the album as compared to those who don’t like it is around an 85 to 15 ratio, the minority is vocal, and feel very strongly about how they feel. Some of them are long time U2 fans who are deeply disappointed. For people like me, who absolutely love the album, and think its some of their best work ever, it’s as hard to understand their point of view, as it is for them to understand how people could like it.

And I think I know why.

Songs are a lot like people.

Did you ever have a friend who was dating someone you couldn’t stand, or who was the last person in the world you’d ever think they’d be with? Exactly. Human / human relationships are based on a complex chemical relationship. You can call it physical or spiritual; it doesn’t matter. But our relationship with music has exactly the same basis. It’s entirely personal, and there is nothing you can ever do to force people to feel how you do about an album or song.

Music is one of the wonders of the world. Mathematicians and music theorists have always tried to explain our relationship with music. But I think we understand it as well as we understand human / human relationships. That is — very little.

You know how hearing just a few notes of a song can trigger a memory or a feeling? Doesn’t the same happen in fleeting moments with other people?

And yet, we still tend to give music the benefit of a doubt more than we do other people. You’re familiar with the saying, “first impressions last“, right? That’s almost always true for relationships between people. It’s extremely rare that a person get a second chance after meeting someone for the first time, to change the impression they’ve projected. But with music, we sometimes admit that some music needs to “grow” on us. “It’s a grower,” we’d claim. How often do we say that about people? “Yeah, John may grow on me.” I think we can learn something there, and it shakes up my theory a bit, but nevertheless…

…well, there’s another difference between music and people. Songs don’t have feelings. Well, I take that back — songs have proxies for feelings — the people who like them. We’ll stick up for music like it’s our own spouse or kids. We feel hurt when other people don’t like the same albums we like. Especially if we generally respect their taste in music. Just like we felt frustrated when our best friends didn’t like our boyfriend / girlfriend.

And that’s why we see so many passionate debates about topics like the latest U2 album. Debates that turn into mudslinging affairs where everyone ends up feeling hurt. Besides politics and religion, there’s nothing people get more passionate about than music. Well, maybe Macs vs. PCs, but that’s usually reserved for weirdo techies like myself.

Did you ever immediately click with someone that your friends hated? The type of person you’d usually avoid? Well, did you ever get into a song or album of a type of music you usually could not stand? Humans and music share an extremely complex relationship. If you break a person down into all their different personality traits, you’d never get to the bottom of their essence. Humans are much more than the sum of their parts. Music is the same. Even a simple-sounding song, as, say, “The Day Before The Day” by Dido. It’s easily one of my favorite songs of all time, but it’s really very simple. All it takes is a hook in a couple of right places, inflection here and there, a note placed perfectly, and the right pause between a couple of notes or lyrical phrase, and it’s taken to a level that can only be reached as a whole.

Why do you think Pandora requests input on each song it plays for you, even though it has an advanced “genome” recognition system? It’s because they realize the complexity of music and our musical tastes. No matter how advanced their analytical system is, there’s no way they’ll ever be finished learning about our tastes.

So, when the rest of your family sees dear old Aunt Beatrice as a whacko, don’t hold it against them. They just never gave her a chance to “grow” on them. Just like you never let “No Line on the Horizon” grow on you. 😉

If you love the new U2, great. You’re happy. If you’re disappointed in it, although it doesn’t feel very good right now, don’t worry. Listen to the U2 you loved in the past. Listen to other music — there’ so much out there. As the old saying goes, “there are other fish in the sea.” And you are definitely not alone.

But you may want to give “Aunt Beatrice” another chance.


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  1. THANK YOU for writing this. I am over feeling guilty for not liking it, although I feel like I’ve been cheated on by my band. We’ll see if it grows on me!

  2. I want to see more blogs about working in a tight economy and I want to hear your opinion on how to survive this economy. I assumed you went throught the tech bubble and have some good advice for technology people who have lost their jobs. I hate to be negative but this is a subject that you could offer a lot of insights on.

  3. I hear you, Mike. I’ve been completely overwhelmed at work lately (some of it because of related issues due to a lack of resources), and other life stuff. I had started a job post about the expectations of someone in the tech field who is looking for a job, and how to prepare. I still need to finish that. I have many other related topics (about 15 or so in my list) that I’ve been drafting out, and need to get back to as soon as I get some stability here.


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