As a dude somewhat dedicated to finding out what makes life worth living, I’ve learned to distinguish between types of pleasure. There are nuances to each, but I can separate most positive sensations/states of mind into two categories of highs and fulfillments. Highs are the direct dopamine stimulations that come from easy conquests like masturbation, drug use, political news and most forms of blue light (TV, computer screens, cell phones, etc.); these are satisfying momentarily but don’t contribute to one’s consummate joy or contentment in life. Fulfillments are brilliant slow burns in the diaphragm, rushes of blood to the brain and urges to fling one’s arms around while dancing and singing, which result from experiences like breathing country air, jamming with friends, sex and love, meeting a personal hero, making one of those friends with whom dialogues can last hours, saving a life, helping strangers or finishing a beloved project. These are the pleasures for which humans have always lived, and have been constantly sidetracked by damnable realities and nervous apathy. They are what advertisers want us to forget about and replace with a drive to consume rendered ever more gross by the numbers of weak-minded people who take them at their word. Stick to your friends and the people you love, and if you don’t have any of those find some for chrissakes.
Which brings me to analyze the pleasure I get from the most obsessive thing in my life. What is the nature of my love of music? It’s difficult to determine its effect on me — sometimes, especially when I’m alone and haven’t done much all day, the music I listen to exhausts me, and I think it must be a hopeless high, a cheap substitute for the real joys in life which I enumerated above. I shut off the stereo and sink into bed like a ship falling to the ocean floor. Other times, when I have intent in my stride and a goal in mind, I feel as though my music is truly important. These varying experiences lead me to believe that music, at least in my life, is more than anything a supplement to the wonderful things I have seen and done. It soundtracks my actions and the scenes from my life; I recall driving south on US-101 to the propulsive beat of Miles Davis’ “Right Off”, or clearing brush in a beautiful part of Aromas while smiling along to songs from Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Exile on Main Street. The best times I have with music are when I do something alongside it.
Thus I suspect that music lies somewhere between the two categories. It has the power to enhance one’s awareness and strengthen memories of good times, and the stuff itself is pretty intoxicating on its own. However, it’s not very permanently remedial for the ills of the soul, and shouldn’t be treated as a form of fulfillment in itself (unless you’re creating your own, or playing with friends). Really, we music lovers are lucky that the rest of society has also been hooked so easily on our drug of choice — otherwise we would be regarded as freaks and degenerates, alcoholics of a sort, guilelessly overindulgent where others are moderate to teetotalling consumers. We spend inordinate amounts of time and money on music; we obsess over its quality, revel in nuances, and push it relentlessly on our friends and relatives. Music addiction has more in common with druggery than we’d all like to think. And we must always remember that it is important, very important, but not so crucial as we might think.