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Jeff Miers: The healing power of music

Sometimes it seems to me that the music knows more than I do.

Lyrics from a favorite Flaming Lips tune of mine had been popping into my head at random all through June and July, and I was simultaneously trying to ignore them and discern whatever it was they were trying to tell me.

The Lips' song "In the Morning of the Magicians" pokes its finger into some serious existential issues, as its narrator makes his way through the brief-but-emotionally-resonant space between the first morning bird's call and the rising of the sun. It begins with the singer pondering the qualitative differences between love and hate, his thinking still a bit fuzzy as he emerges from a dream. It ends with a rather devastating couplet sung in a wistful, resigned tenor: "As the day began to break, I had to surrender/The universe will have its way/Too powerful to master."

The implication being, we are not actually in charge. Not something I generally like to admit.

By the middle of July, a fairly serious illness arrived in my life. It would end up taking from me the remainder of the summer. Ultimately, it led to an unpleasant but successful surgery, crammed without much warning into the days immediately following my return from Boston, Mass., where I'd taken my son to begin his first semester at the Berklee College of Music.

Suddenly, none of the plans I'd made mattered. I wasn't driving the bus. And the bus was moving fast.

It would take me a few days following my return home from the hospital to recall the Lips lyrics that had been ear-worming me to the point of distraction right up until the moment I took ill. The universe did indeed have its way with me, just as it does with all of us. (Weird to realize upon reflection that, among the dozens of shows I missed during my illness was one that I'd been looking forward to for months – Flaming Lips at the Rapids Theatre.)

All of this could well be merely coincidental, random, meaningless. I have my doubts, though. Music works its way into the mind, and the mind knows when the body is in peril long before the "bouncer-at-the-door-of-the-club" that is the ego is ready to admit as much. It's fitting, then, that a potent lyric comes soaring on the wings of a melody into your consciousness at a relevant time.

Maybe music saw what was coming for me. Such an assertion is neither provable nor disprovable. Music certainly made its presence felt throughout the experience, however, and it has greatly aided in my ongoing recovery. I'm far from alone.

A 2016 Harvard Medical School study called "How Music Can Help You Heal" found that music from a broad range of genre classifications has been linked to many facets of healing. Employing music as a therapeutic measure, the study said, "decreases pain perception, reduces the amount of pain medication needed, helps relieve depression in pain patients, and gives them a sense of better control over their pain."

Well, yeah, that would definitely seem to be the case. I leaned on music heavily during my recovery, and I used it to wean myself from the potent painkillers I'd been prescribed post-surgery. It was Herbie Hancock's "Mwandishi" album (played on repeat) that saw me through my first day of opioid-free pain management. (I read Bob Gluck's excellent "You'll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band" simultaneously, and it helped, too.)

Todd Rundgren's "Healing" album then lived up to its title for a few days, at which point I turned to late-'60s/early-'70s Miles Davis – whose music was in my head when I emerged from my post-surgery anesthesia nap – for both comfort and a bolstering feeling of defiance.  Debussy lent serenity, but so did Cheap Trick and Prophets of Rage. The point being, you don’t necessarily need New Age or meditation-based music to help you heal. It can be anything.

Not surprisingly, Bob Marley said it best: "One good thing about music – when it hits, you feel no pain."





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