Music as Escapism

On the weekends, I like to go for long walks. There isn’t anywhere that I have to be or anything that I have to do, so I like to wander around. These walks can range from 15 minutes to well over an hour. They’re a way to decompress after a long work week and to get out for exercise.

Often, I bring my phone with and listen to music. What I listen to ranges from Björk to Tycho to Ronald Jenkees. During today’s walk, I had the realization that music offers the same kind of escapism that movies and books do. Let’s deviate for a moment:

Why do people post quotes on Facebook? Because the person posting them believes the quote fits how they’re feeling or something they believe in. Rather than writing their own emotion or belief, they substitute in someone else’s words. The same goes for people who post lyrics; they believe the words match their emotion.

However, their emotions don’t perfectly match. How you feel cannot be completely put into words, they are something indescribable. Another person can’t perfectly explain how you feel, nor can their words accurately portray your emotions. We use other people’s words/lyrics/art to represent our emotions because we cannot fully explain our own emotions.

When we invest ourselves in other’s works, we lose part of ourselves. By using a famous song to explain how an emotion, you don’t explain how you feel. You’re using someone else’s words.

Most of us listen to music to feel an emotion. We want to feel upbeat, or sad, or calm. We want what we’re hearing to parallel an emotion. If I’m feeling sad, I want to listen to sad songs. You can also use songs to lift you out of a funk. Anyway you look at it, we listen to music to feel something.

The trouble is, we already have an emotion. Internally we’re also feeling something. When I’m sad, and I listen to a sad song, the words don’t perfectly match my emotion. When you listen to music, you take on the emotion of the song – especially if you know the words.

Perhaps part of the reason we take on the emotion of a song is because we believe ourselves to be the singer. When you sing the words “hit me with your best shot”, you substitute yourself into the lyrics. You hear, “hit me with your best shot”. The word “me” doesn’t refer to Pat Benatar (the singer), it refers to whomever is singing or listening to the words. When you sing, you take yourself as the main character of the song.

Eventually the lyrics get to: “You don’t fight fair. But that’s OK, see if I care”. At this point, you may no longer relate to the lyrics, but you sing them in your head (or out loud). By continuing to make yourself the main character, you take on the lyricist’s / original singer’s emotion.

When we listen to music, we live other people’s emotions. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, when we take on feelings that aren’t our own, we fill ourselves up with emotion. If I have an emotional bucket, and I’m feeling sad, maybe I’ll fill half of it on my own. When I listen to sad songs, I take on the singer’s emotion as well. Now that bucket is full. Rather than emptying the bucket by relaxing, I’ve listened to music and added to my emotions.

Walking is my way of relieving stress and relaxing. Today I realized that when I bring my music with I don’t decompress. Music adds to my emotions and fills that bucket. When I get home, maybe I’ll feel more stressed out or more confused about my own feelings. Music isn’t bad, it just is another form of escapism. When I want to relax, I need to confront my emotions, not escape from them. Listening to music doesn’t make me confront how I feel, it makes me feel even more – more sad, more happy, more energetic. To decompress and let my mind calm down, I need to listen to the quiet.


5/31 Blogtober

Sometimes I think that people watch TV and listen to music as a way of escaping from their own thoughts. Even some people have to listen to noise at night because their mind won’t calm down enough for them to sleep. I wonder if they just have difficulty living with their own mind?

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