Neil Young and mental health

I like Neil Young, he’s always seemed like an interesting person in the world of music. Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, the Crazy Horse years…he makes great music and seems to try and give a voice to those that we might not hear otherwise in some of his work. Outside of music he’s unafraid to speak his mind, which is kind of refreshing.

I came across this article this morning, recounting an interview with Young and had to read it. With a byline like, “He says low quality music is hurting our songs and our brains. Is he right?” how could I pass it up? All that promise of neurological intrigue had to be explored. As a somewhat novice ukulele player with the thought rattling around in my mind of one day getting up on a stage (a really small one) and performing for people, the idea that part of the aura of music includes the imperfections, the missed notes, really appeals to me. I miss a lot of notes. The idea of finding our humanity in that space of imperfection is a powerful message as well. To me it suggests contentment and maturity, satisfaction even. There isn’t a lot about social media that suggests contentment and satisfaction…we are to be people of action, always clamoring for the next sensory experience. And we’re falling off cliffs at an alarming rate to snap the next great post…that doesn’t sound satisfying.

He isn’t a huge fan of social media either but that’s not why we’re here. I like to play the ukulele and I’m also a general purpose psychology nerd so along with learning strum patterns and chords and songs is a bunch of reading about the benefits of learning a musical instrument. Turns out that’s even better for you cognitively than any of those apps on your phone that purport to enhance your cognitive experience. Dementia runs in my family, I’m going to need all the help I can get, so I might as well make some nice noises in the process. A friend of mine is suffering from early-onset dementia. He’s also a very talented musician and I remember thinking how difficult it might be for him when those chord shapes, those notes all slip away. Turns out dementia doesn’t seem to have the same impact on the parts of our brain that process music as it does on the parts of our brain that deal with memory, so he could be in luck.

The author notes the potential for music formatted a specific way to help overcome brain trauma and points to Young’s experience dealing with a son with cerebral palsy and trying to connect with him and to connect him to the world through music. The author also indicates having some success with this form of audio therapy in dealing with his own son’s neural challenges. Not methodologically rigorous from a scientific perspective but certainly enough of a result to give us some hope that we might be able to recover more than science thought possible from traumatic brain injury and hopefully enough to teach us about the power of music.

Music is powerful, at least it can be…