Basemental: Why do we like live music anyway?

There are two reasons I like music. The first is that euphoric feeling you get when you see an amazing band (especially for the first time); the second is I like musicians and their stories. I enjoy compulsively consuming them. Gotta scrape the bottom of the Wikipedia references to get the fullest scoop (that is still incomplete and inadequate); also those glib Youtube interviews where the band is drinking beer and pretending to “shoot the shit” on camera.

But dissing music media (who am I to do such a thing?) isn’t the subject of this piece. I have a more earnest mission: that euphoric feeling. What is it? How do we get it? Is it a thing that exists? Am I just making this up?

The first time I saw my favorite bands live — The Lentils, Deerhoof, and the Miami Dolphins — not only did their sets transcend reality into a state of bliss (disbelief?) (a higher place?), but my world was altered. I experienced a change in brain chemistry probably. This is true! According to a random website that cites research from McGill university, your brain releases dopamine, the same neurotransmitter that rewards us during drugs, food or sex (and probably other good stuff – Facebook notifications anyone?), when music does that thing this column is about. But the sounds spoke to me in a visceral way; nothing else mattered. My mind didn’t wander, as it sometimes does, during these performances.

The first times I saw The Lentils in the basement of my old house, I was overcome with joy. It was the first time I truly understood how underrated bad guitar playing is, and how much I need it. The falsetto singer Luke Csehak sang about being a “Mama’s Boy” (“mama didn’t raise no rice cake to crumble at the lifeguard’s feet”) and broke me in a good way. It was so funny. I’m not sure I understood that a song could be really funny and not be Weird Al (who is objectively not that funny or good).

When I saw Deerhoof at some random street fair thing in Troy, NY last year, I danced in the front row with my best friends – we were so happy that other people were also happy. It’s moments like that my memory builds up in my head as the good times in my young life. The moments I’ll always remember and never recreate.

This is why I think people like music – because it breaks us in a good way and gives our brains dopamine, that drug we all like.

Will Meyer writes the Advocate’s bimonthly Basemental column. You can contact him at willinabucket@gmail.com

Will Meyer

Author: Will Meyer

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