On Music and Comfort

by Melissa Gauger

“It was one of the only albums I was like, ‘Oh, what the hell is this?’” smiles Tom Wyatt as he admires Kris Kristofferson’s 1971 release The Silver Tongued Devil and I.  The record, along with Gary Clark’s Old Number 1, is an album that makes Wyatt feel the most comfortable.  When he hears this music, he is reminded of himself. When these artists sing, Wyatt can hear himself saying the same things.

“It reminds me of being a kid,” Wyatt says, “but more organic than the things I say now.”

Music has always had a profound effect on every listener.  With a few chords, a few lyrics, a few sounds, a song can make its listener feel any emotion: joy, sorrow, anger.  While some music can cause the utmost excitement, other songs can make one feel warmth, comfort, or familiarity. When listening to these songs or artists, it can feel like being home. In ancient Egypt, chant therapies played a part in healing processes.  Researchers have even concluded that music has direct physiological effects on the body, such as regulating breathing.

On Kristofferson and Clark, Wyatt’s eyes sparkle as he says, “It’s like an old friend...It’s just something you lean on.”

  photos by Mana Parker

photos by Mana Parker

Kat Iris’s mood bubbles as she lists her most comforting artists: Ryan Adams, First Aid Kit, and Emmylou Harris.  She grins, “They’re the kinds of people you listen to and you go, ‘I’d like to sit down and have a coffee with you and just talk and see what’s on your mind.’”  

Iris is drawn to the way these artists project their feelings.  When she hears a song by Ryan Adams, she knows exactly what he is talking about, even if he conveyed the message in an abstract, obscure fashion.  “It just really hits home,” she says, her eyes sparkling. Music to Iris is about the reflection of emotion. She explains, “You’ll hear something in a song and you’ll feel it, and you’ll understand it.  You won’t really get why you do, but it’s because it’s saying those things that you don’t know how to say.”

Iris also associates songs with memories; they create a lasting stamp in time.  Last summer, she and Wyatt took a road trip through Virginia and North Carolina. After performing their most comforting songs at open mics and listening to them in the car as they drove, she now associates nostalgia with these familiar artists.

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To Iris, music is personal and intimate; recording music is putting your most vulnerable self out into the world.  That vulnerability is what makes Adams and Harris and First Aid Kit so special to her. The music is “almost like a friend, so it’s very comforting,” she explains, smiling as if the aforementioned artists were sitting around her.  

For Wyatt, the feelings and perceptions he associates with Kristofferson and Clark are forever changing. His eyes seem focused on something invisible as he says, “You might not know what the memory even is attached to it, but you hear a certain song or a certain album and it reminds you of a hundred different things.”  He can never explain the memories, but they affect him personally all the same.

But on the mystery behind why music so strongly influences emotions, Wyatt answers, “I think you gotta ask the god or whatever you wanna believe in that question.”

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