Tonight I came across a trailer for the new documentary film 'Alive Inside'. If you have a pulse, a love of music and a lust for life, you might find the subject matter meaningful. In a sense, it is a film about music. But it is much more than that. It is also a film studying the effects of music therapy on the elderly, particularly those living in nursing homes and suffering degenerative diseases.
If this sounds depressing and uncool to you, I suppose keep moving, for there probably isn't anything in today's post for you to know right now. Admittedly, Alzheimer's, dementia and in-patient care for the elderly are hard subjects to engage with. But if you have a genuine love of music and even the slightest interest in human neuroscience, then you might find the above video clip interesting. It is about as real and big and small and mighty and humbling and beautiful and sad and triumphant as life gets. It is also funny and sweet and profoundly weird.
When the elderly in-patient Henry is asked about the music he's been given, his eyeballs become very big and flash with such life and inner vision. Wigglin' around, movin' his arms, singin' tunes... The transformation is stunning. Corny as it might be to say this, it breaks my heart with such joy. Truly, it is just exciting to see the man get so excited.
The first time I watched his response, I cried like only a grown person can cry. I cried from deep down in my everything. I cried with the full weight of my years and all the history that comes with it. Due to a combination of time, circumstance and disposition I am a terribly hard person. This is a fact I'm not at all proud of. Which means I cry the way a hardened person cries— usually alone and for much longer than even I can believe. It takes an awful lot to get me there, but when it happens...it happens for a while. Why?
Probably because there are more than a few things I'll not ever fully reconcile. Despite my sense of optimism and wonder, my ghosts and regrets still live with, in and all around me. But that's life. After a while you learn to take the good with the bad and get on with the living as best you can...that is until something unexpected reminds you of how fragile, fleeting and strange it all is to be anything at all. Tonight, Henry's love of music sent me right over the edge.
When he says, "You've got beautiful music here," I felt like all of life's momentary triumphs and monumental absurdities came sharply into focus.
Despite the complexity of his circumstance, simply hearing his favorite tunes caused him to awaken from a decade-long fog and make profound statements on the nature of existence and importance of music's role within it. Maybe not to others, but to me this is amazing. His response is just such a wonderful, heartwarming, sad, happy, complicated, beautiful thing to behold. I love it. I really do.
He's right, we do have beautiful music here. No other place in the universe has given us Steven Reich's Drumming or Bo Diddley's Black Gladiator. Earth made those people, and those people's music helps me make it through a day, a year, a lifetime. Does that sound silly? Maybe it is. But I don't feel silly about it. Quite the contrary, I feel psyched.
Any time I hear the Bad Brains' "Rock For Light," Talk Talk's "New Grass," Prefab Sprout's "Lions In My Own Garden" and "Elegance," El Perro Del Mar's "Change of Heart," Aaron Copeland's "Clarinet Concerto," (or even Juno's "We Slept In Rented Rooms"), I suddenly find the entire arc of my life and personal history come into view. Why? I really don't know why, it just happens that way.
Without having any scientific explanation for it, I just feel like those songs (and thousands more) simply resonate with me on a biological level. The words and melodies somehow unlock a mental door to people, places, ideas, loves, deaths, tragedies, good times and regrets that I simply cannot contend with in any other day-to-day way. Listening to certain favorite songs and continuing to record new music helps me get on with the living. That neuroscience is now discovering there might be health and memory retention benefits to music that we had heretofore not considered is incredibly positive news and bodes well for the future.
Anyway, if you have friends or family suffering Alzheimer's or dementia, you might wanna whip up a playlist for that person ASAP. It could make a world of difference or at the very least brighten the corners of their minds.
To learn more about the 'Alive Inside' documentary and the neurological effects of music on in-patients living with Alzheimer's and dementia, here's a recent Washington Post article with links to more information.
Strength & love,