“Rap music is really good when you’re traumatized” –Kim Gordon, formerly of Sonic Youth, author of “Girl In A Band”
I begin this post with an apology of sorts. I am not trying to make fun of or otherwise criticize anyone’s music preferences. I’ve been on the receiving end of that and know what it is like. But at the same time, I care very passionately about music, as a simple poke around this blog will show. I mean, hello, I got the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ band logo as a tattoo instead of nipple reconstruction (see page)! So, my preferences are going to come out. And so will my dislikes—which is putting it mildly.
There is no denying that certain pieces of music are used to evoke/manipulate certain emotions, such as the over-used, various versions of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in every damn TV show/movie in the past few years. (For the record, I’m a Jeff-Buckley’s-is-the-definitive-version girl.) I’m sure most have noticed cancer has a soundtrack too, for the same reasons–eliciting emotions, manipulating donations. Since the dominant language around cancer is the fight/warrior metaphors, often the music reflects that. In the case of breast cancer, there is that positivity requirement, so there are lots of kicky, upbeat, celebrate-good-times-c’mon tunes. I remember specifically a clip in the infamous “Pink Ribbons, Inc” film featuring a race volunteer pointing out the deliberate use of these types of tunes.
Those who’ve read my blog for a while know that is so NOT my type of music. My tastes are not really the pop radio hits. Oh, I won’t say no to some perfect pop songs, any Bruno Mars songs, but those things are not my favorites. Most songs used at races, in viral videos, and on those awful morning fake news shows produce a reaction from me like nails on a chalkboard. Back when I did suffer those morning shows, when Robin Roberts was dealing with cancer, I seem to remember some stupid song with the lyric “I can breathe again” played on the show over and over and over. I loathe that song. During the time I was in treatment, I was sort of okay with Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”. That is, until I saw it in some YouTube video with children with cancer singing it. I can’t hate on cancer kids of course, but it did seem so cliché. Personally, I prefer Conan O’Brien’s twist on the quote anyway: “What Nietzsche should have said is, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you watch a lot of Cartoon Network and drink mid-price Chardonnay at 11 in the morning.’” Of course, many breast cancer patients currently love “Fight Song”. I’d hate the song anyway, but I doubly hate it because of the warrior language. And unluckily for me, the song is inescapable these days, used in movie ads and whatnot. I did have a laugh when “SNL” used it in a skit mocking that kind of inspirational movie. Yes, “Fight Song” is THE go to song for personal triumphs. Eek, I’m getting that nails-on-chalkboard feeling just writing about it!!!
I’ve covered the songs I hate—what do I love? What are my cancer theme songs/playlist standards? Anyone paying attention to my gravatar knows of my love for The Ramones. Yep, my go to song during treatment was “I Wanna Be Sedated”. How could it not be? And boy oh boy, I did so love sleeping through infusions. I did not want to be there, did not want the experience, and these days I’m glad I don’t really have many memories of it. Side note: when I wasn’t sleeping I was reading about the life of Joey Ramone, in a bio written by his brother, called “I Slept With Joey Ramone”. It covered the late singer’s whole life, including his maddening OCD, and final days with lymphoma. In my post cancer treatment life, naturally my theme song is “Where Is My Mind”, by The Pixies. A perfect fit. I can’t seem to remember anything these days—although I have written about how I can remember some stupid stuff, and yes, don’t you know, one of the useless things I can remember is lyrics to a song I don’t even like that much (see here about Vanilla Ice Ice Baby).
I’ve written often about musicians I admire or song lyrics. Off the top of my head I know I used a Nirvana lyric, “I can pretend”, because the line has a certain meaning for me now, different than what it used to mean to me, and most definitely not what Cobain meant. And in a few weeks I will update a post I wrote last year, begging for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination for The Cure. Nominations happen in October, a pleasant diversion for me during the pink madness of that month. Yes, cure means a different thing to me than when I was a moody semi-goth teen. But I never want to forget that The Cure is a band, and we need numerous cureS (upper case S on purpose) for cancerS. I need to have “cure” mean both things for me.
I grimace to myself wondering what with their songs about sniffing glue and other general “bad” behavior, how The Ramones would react to “I Wanna Be Sedated” being the go to theme song for this cancer patient. Probably they would not care—given that 3 of the 4 original members died of cancer. And I’m sure The Pixies were not expecting that a haunting piano version of their “Where Is My Mind” would be used years later in TV/movies to signal the main character has mental issues, or that a stupid Cancer Curmudgeon would hum it herself at those random moments the fall-out from chemo-brain presents itself. “Dumb”, the Nirvana song containing the “I can pretend” line, was about taking pleasure in simple things—well, it no longer means that for me, sort of. For me, it’s an anthem to remind myself to lie to others when they ask me how I’m doing, because I know they really don’t want to know.
I used to worry that I seemed to be drawn to darker or more aggressive music. I remember so clearly some moments in the past few years. Humming along happily to that misogynist Eminem and feeling soothed by his lyrical, if nasal, voice. Getting excited about a new Nine Inch Nails album. (Side note: Nine Inch Nails, not to be outdone by pop princesses, also did a good deed for a man dying of cancer, read here, lest anyone think these “angry” musicians are incapable of good deeds–and keep reading.) Why on earth do I gravitate toward this stuff? I’m sure those that call my blog negative would accuse me of just feeding my so-called negativity. But then I read this awesome piece, “Finding Happiness In Angry Music”. It’s a great, short read, but for those who don’t wish to read it, the gist is that those who use “angry” music to express or experience so-called negative emotions are actually pretty well-adjusted:
It’s no novel idea that someone might choose to rev themselves up with aggressive music before a engaging in a tough task: A fourth quarter tie-breaker, a tense salary negotiation. And no surprise, the folks who chose angry music had no problem completing their tasks.
But Tamir also found that the people who chose to be pissed off actually showed a greater sense of well-being overall than the people who avoided feelings of unpleasantness.
“Rather than seeking happiness at all times, it may be important to seek happiness at the right time,” Tamir concluded. “Encouraging people to seek happiness and shun unhappiness irrespective of context may not necessarily be adaptive in the long run.”
Ah, well if that ain’t music to a Cancer Curmudgeon’s ears! How many of us here in CancerLand have been pointing out the healthiness of not submerging the negative stuff? And this study proved that point with music! It’s like they designed it for ME!
I actually read the article back when it was published in 2013. This is another one of those posts I’ve had kicking around a long time, I just never got around to finishing it. Hearing “Fight Song” all over the place lately was the kick in the butt I needed. Also, as I sat down to write yesterday, footage from Rage Against The Machine’s 2010 London concert was on the TV. They’d re-grouped to perform this one concert after some grassroots movement in England had placed one of their songs in a top chart position, pushing out the canned crap from some reality contest singing show. I saw them live in 1993, screaming “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” along with Zach de la Rocha. Hmph, what the hell did I have to rebel against back then, in my privileged world—high bottled water prices (well yeah, they are kind of terrible at all day festivals)? These days, it’s another lyric of theirs that takes on different meaning: “anger is a gift”.
Yes it is. It’s just a different gift in my cancerous 40s than it was in my 20s. But embracing their loud singing/screaming of that lyric has been just wonderful for me.
So on that note, I leave readers with “Twenty twenty twenty four hours to go, I wanna be sedated….”