On Neurodivergent Music Appreciation

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 Responses

  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.

  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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