Coping mechanisms – the power of music

The first specific coping mechanism I’d like to discuss is music. Regular readers will know that family and friends are more important to me than anything else in life but they are closely followed by music. In saying I use music as a coping mechanism, I don’t mean that I quickly play a song during those situations when anxiety strikes and everything is suddenly fine, as that doesn’t work for me. However, certain songs and playlists do help a lot during the times when feelings of low self-esteem and self-confidence are prominent.

Music is a constant factor in my life. I find it difficult to work and/or write when listening to music, primarily as I focus too much on the songs rather than the work, but, other than that, I am constantly listening to music. In the car, in the shower, cooking, making a brew, getting dressed, getting undressed, walking anywhere that takes longer than 30 seconds, when doing menial and boring tasks (i.e. hoovering, mowing the lawn, taking the bins out etc), exercising (especially when exercising) and many more, much to my wife’s chagrin at times…

For as long as I can remember, music has been prominent in my life. As a young child, I eagerly anticipated seeing which singles my mum and dad would buy each week. Music was always playing in our house and I was blessed to be exposed to a wide range of genres and artists. Record sessions could and often would include artists as diverse as Queen, Status Quo, Kenny Rogers, Cliff Richard, Abba, The Pretenders, Blondie, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, ELO, Big Country and a whole lot more besides. A slight aside – if you hadn’t already figured, I was first introduced to music in the late-70’s / early 80’s! The one abiding memory I have is that these times were almost always joyous. A record would play, pretty much any record, and we’d sing, we’d talk, we’d laugh. Music always made us smile, always made us feel good, and certainly brought us closer together as a family.

That love of music grew and grew. Fast forward to the current age of MP3s, playlists and streaming services, and my reliance on music is greater than ever. What I find particularly rewarding is being able to find a playlist or artist to match my mood at any given time. I have a number of playlists on my iPod, including (though not limited to) AOR, Classical, Movie Songs, New Full Albums To Listen To, Songs To Learn on Piano, Songs To Learn on Guitar, Indie, Country, Rock, When I Was A Kid, Blues, Feelgood Songs, Favourite Pop Songs, Workout Songs, Night Out Prep, Acoustic, Motivational Songs, Moody / Cool Stuff, and Lux Bay ‘To Learn’ Songs. If I decide to exercise and need music to pump me up, the workout playlist starts (it’s mainly rock music or songs with a healthy smattering of attitude). If I wake up on a Sunday morning and want to ease into the day, the acoustic playlist starts. If I get home from work in a severely hacked off mood, the moody / cool stuff playlist starts (that is full of songs written by artists who were clearly angry and in need of venting frustration at the time!). If I want to sing some joyous pop tunes whilst dancing around the house like a loon, the favourite pop songs playlist starts. If low self-esteem / low self-confidence is particularly prevalent at any time, the motivational songs playlist starts. I can always find a playlist, artist or album to make me feel differently about any given situation and that is priceless. For me, that is why music is so important. Firstly, it makes me feel something; it generates emotion; it makes me feel alive. Secondly, it can change my mood in a short space of time, often for the better. Music absolutely has the power to do this on a frequent basis.

Before I write about live music, forgive me for getting on my soapbox for a minute or two. I have eclectic tastes in music and there is something that really hacks me off – the use of the term ‘guilty pleasure’. A term often used in a sneering manner when describing what is perceived as a less trendy song (or film, or TV show, or book), I can’t stand it. Why should we feel the need to justify anything we like in the arts, particularly in music? I love albums such as Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’, The Beatles’ ‘Rubber Soul’, Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ and the self-titled Stone Roses debut. No doubt those choices would result in knowing nods and approval from sniffier music fans; those hipsters who pore over Rolling Stone, NME and Q Magazine lists of the greatest albums of all time and dismiss everything else as worthless. Equally, some of my favourite artists are Abba, The Bee Gees, Kenny Rogers, Pink, Elton John, Paloma Faith, Take That and many, many more. My music philosophy is really quite simple – if a song makes you feel something, whether that be unbridled joy, sadness, a childlike innocence, any emotion really, then it’s a good song. That doesn’t need to be justified to anyone else. If I want a playlist featuring songs by the likes of AC/DC, the cast of the Commitments, the Divine Comedy, Enrique, Fatboy Slim, Waylon Jennings, Huey Lewis & the News, McFly, Paolo Nutini, Oasis, Primal Scream, Prince, and Right Said Fred (and my ‘night out prep’ playlist features all of these and more), I’ll damn well have it. No guilty pleasures. No adhering to hipster playlists. No influence from anyone else. Just a lot of ridiculously good songs that stir up some form of emotion within me. Please don’t ever feel the need to describe any music choice as a guilty pleasure – there really isn’t a need to do so. If anyone ever suggests there is, have a well-informed debate and please give me a call so I can join in!

Also vitally important is just how much live music enhances my life. Quite simply, a good live concert can and should be a life-affirming event. There’s little better than sharing a venue with enthusiastic, like-minded people, whether that be 200 or 20,000 others, and witnessing a fantastic concert. Recorded music is wonderful and essential but live concerts offer more; more of an opportunity to really understand the artist, to feel more at one with them, to acknowledge and appreciate what that artist means to you and also what you mean to them. Live music has figured in everyday life for centuries and for good reason. The very best gigs can be spiritual experiences; life-changing at times. But as a minimum, they make life seem just a little bit better than before. This applies at any level, from a really good pub gig to a huge stadium gig. I write this having seen what I believe to be the best gig of my life last Tuesday night, which was Sheryl Crow at the Lowry in Salford. A long-time fan, this was my first time seeing her live and I loved every second. I left on a high which I’m still feeling 5 days later, will no doubt continue to feel for some time, and that is invaluable. I also write as the BBC’s brilliant coverage of the Glastonbury festival is in full swing. One of my favourite weekends of the year (wall-to-wall live music coverage – what’s not to like?), last night’s headline set by The Killers reminds me of a quote I adore, regarding the power of music to bring complete strangers together:

Finally, onto my love of playing guitar and performing live. Given how obsessed I was with music at the time, I jumped at the chance at the age of 13 to own a guitar when my Dad brought one home which a work colleague of his had bought for his son, though he hadn’t taken to it. He was giving it away and I gladly gave it a home. An acoustic guitar, it was a cheap model and, quite frankly, awful. Thankfully entry level guitars these days are vastly superior to those which were available 32 years ago but this thing was hideous. However, I didn’t really realise that at the time and stuck with it. I got better as the years went on but, given the good old issues of low confidence and low self-esteem, I remained a bedroom guitarist for many years. Far too long in fact. Am I one of the most technically gifted guitarists I know? Certainly not. Do I have vast amounts of theoretical music knowledge? Again, no. For many years, I let this influence me and didn’t actively seek an opportunity to join a band. I ignored the fact that I have an eclectic taste in music, am a competent enough player to play live gigs, and I have a good natural sense of rhythm. Thankfully, at some point in my mid 30’s, the guitarist in a friend’s band left and I was asked to audition. The audition went well and I haven’t look back since. I had a great few years playing indie and rock covers in Slipstream, yet more great years playing ‘wedding band’ style material in La Bam, and I now thoroughly enjoy life as a duo in Lux Bay. I have been ridiculously fortunate to work with ridiculously talented people in all 3 bands and that is a huge help for me – if I felt I were working with sub-standard musicians, I know for certain that my perfectionist side would really kick in and I’d over-analyse situations far too much.

Playing guitar for me is a huge comfort blanket. I feel like a completely different person with a guitar in front of me; prouder, more confident, more willing to take risks. Perhaps something of a cliché though it always feels as though the guitar is a part of me. Given the subject matter of this blog, perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that anxiety still figures frequently, especially at the start of each and every gig. However, I am content to experience this and deal with it in order to do something I love so much. Quite often those feelings disappear 2 or 3 songs into a gig. On occasion they don’t, and I then revert back to over-analysing situations, picking apart every element of a gig, questioning my own performance and ability, honing in far too much on audience reaction and what they may be thinking about me (perhaps another reason I like the guitar is that it hides my current frame / physique quite well…). Though, in the main, playing live is nearly always a rewarding and positive experience. My guitars certainly act as crutches and I’d be utterly lost without them or with music in my life.  

This appears to be a suitable place to end this post. Thanks again for taking the time to read this – I really do appreciate it. I could discuss this particular theme for days and days and will gladly do so should any of you ever wish to! Who knows – perhaps there’s even a full book to be written on this? I must add it to my ‘to-do’ list. Please don’t ever forget: Yes, you can do it

Until next time.

Best wishes,

Mick

4 Comments

  1. Brilliant, brilliant reading. I remember it all so well and great times even when your mum started singing 🙂

    Make Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping your signature tune son, It’s certainly mine (the first two or three lines anyway) Not so sure about the Lager drink but certainly the Whisky drink if its Jameson’s.

    Keep this up. Its brilliant reading. Look forward to it every week.

  2. Brilliant. I’m going to change the title of my guilty pleasures playlist right now! May no snob ever again say a song you like is crap! Its subjective goddamit! What you and Becci do is awesome and you should be proud. Really hope there’s a gig on when I’m home. X

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