On Neurodivergent Music Appreciation2 min read

I recently redis­cov­ered a favorite album of my ado­les­cence, Björk’s Post. Much has changed in the last twenty-some years since its release, but this record still moves my core. The wild, rad­ical ups and downs of “Quiet.” The whim­sical futurism of “Modern Things.” The absurd-yet-relatable, star-crossed fancy of “I Miss You.”

Most of all, the rhythm: this is music I don’t just hear with my ears but feel with my entire being, body, and soul (in fact, as I wrote this I was lis­tening with the volume way up but my ear muffs on, so I could hear and feel it without the higher pitches get­ting stabby on my eardrums). My mind has a few cri­tiques of the lyrics, but that doesn’t change the fact that forty-year-old me loves the album just as much as seventeen-year-old me, maybe even more so since it’s been with me longer– unlike most people in my life, this record has held up to its promise.

It may not appear so at first glance, but my sharing with you what music I have been lis­tening to and why I love it is a huge, vul­ner­able rev­e­la­tion. I am only begin­ning to under­stand why I have always had a hard time answering that classic ice-breaker: “What music do you listen to?” When asked this ques­tion, my brain freezes. I always thought, “I love music–why can’t I think of what bands I like when someone asks?”

Or, if some names to come to mind, I may be too ner­vous to share: if they were to laugh or say they hate the musi­cian I name, they would be scorning a part of me. That’s how strongly I con­nect with the music I love. For most, “What bands do you like?” is a casual con­ver­sa­tion starter. For me, it’s as if someone asked, “Let me see the color of your heart.”

In high school in the 90’s, every lunch time I would find a spot out­side, away from the buzzing lights and ado­les­cent chaos of the cafe­teria, sit on the grass, and pull my Walkman out of my back­pack. Sure, most 90’s kids had Walkmans, but for the majority, it was an acces­sory.

For me, it was an appendage. I always felt this was cru­cial, these fleeting moments of escape, but only in ret­ro­spect do I see just how truly nec­es­sary that access was– that, in fact, I would likely not have been able to main­tain aca­d­emic suc­cess without these retreats from the sen­sory onslaught and uncon­scious masking of school.

Most likely the burnout I expe­ri­enced midway through col­lege and again in my late thir­ties would have hap­pened much sooner. The sui­ci­dality I have wres­tled at times would have had a much stronger hold if I had not had the emo­tional and sen­sory sus­te­nance of music in that world where I felt so alien and over­whelmed.

Perhaps it would not be too much to say that music saved my life.

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4 Comments

  1. Extremely relat­able to the very end. What music do I like? Music that affects and lights up my entire body, often regard­less of the lyrics. I’m in my 30s and still can’t imagine going out­side without the com­fort of my music. Working headphones/earbuds are top pri­ority. Whether it’s to muffle the out­side, or to dis­tract from all the random people, to make me less avail­able to them, to have some­thing pos­i­tive and familiar with me out in the mostly-confusing world. Music keeps on saving me.

    1. Hi, Kay, somehow I missed your com­ment when you posted, but yes to all of it!!!

  2. I relate to this article so much. These days when someone asks me the music ques­tion, I some­times respond with “all kinds” of music. They usu­ally take it as a non-answer, but what they don’t realize, and what I have no time to impart on them, is that I simply enjoy the artistic endeavors of artists at the top of their game, changing par­a­digms within what­ever genre that they’ve decided to under­take.

    I got really into Bjork shortly before her Medulla record came out. I walked into best buy and bought it the day it dropped. They stocked one copy. Medulla was actu­ally the first full record of hers I heard in full, and I loved it. It’s sin­gular cre­ativity was unprece­dented. I knew right there that that notion really encap­su­lates Bjork’s entire career. Even her more “pop” works, like Post, land squarely in the land of an artist that is fully planting a flag in lands that may seem familiar, but never before tread. Such a plea­sure to relisten to it after reading your article. It’s things like this that give us new eyes and ears to expe­ri­ence what lies beyond most peo­ples grasp.

    1. Hi, Eric! Somehow I missed the com­ments here way back in April. Glad the article res­onated with you!

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