Matthew: You’d better help me or I’m in bad shape. My dad absolutely loves old-time country-western music, and he blasts it all over the house all day long. I don’t even know their names, but they’re old guys. And they don’t sing about anything except losing love and drinking hard and feeling blue and all that crybaby stuff. It makes me crazy, even though I have my iPod to help blank it out. But I can’t spend all my time with those buds in my ears. I’ve tried begging him to at least find some Dolly Parton or something, but he says that’s not country music. But the stuff he listens to, I can’t believe he feels good when he listens to that miserable music. Matthew, can you possibly give me some good reason to give my dad that maybe will make him give country-western a second thought? I’m ready to jump off the Coronado bridge! — On the Edge in El Cajon
If Pops can’t be moved by watching you mope around the house, I’m not sure he can be blinded by science. There’s plenty of research into the effects of music on emotions, but most of it investigates perky, dance-y stuff or chill-out songs or really, really old-school violin-y stuff (like Mozart), not your moody blues. There’s even less info about why Daddy-o loves the radio when it’s tuned to gettin’-on-a-train-goin’-to-jail-my-girl-left-me-and-my-dog-died music. But we’ll give it a shot.
There’s no question that music affects emotion. Tons of research proves it’s true. Science guys have done scans of people’s brains while they’re listening to Bach and Marilyn Manson and the Carpenters and the like, and each kind of music lights up a different part of the brain. It seems that when music goes in your ear hole it uses some of the same neural pathways used by pleasant and unpleasant emotional states. The lab coats are still fist-fighting over exactly why different music lights up different parts of the brain, but they all agree that you can be bummed out by some of it. Dissonance and minor chords work best if you want to tap into your ego side. And in your case, the words would add to the general malaise.
So before we reveal the next bit, Edge, why don’t you take a deep breath, let it out slowly, then shake out your arms and legs and get all relaxed. Get all that Hank Williams out of your system. Okay? Okay. There is a published study in the journal Social Forces that demonstrated that the more country-western music the study subjects listened to, the higher their risk of suicide. I don’t know what kind of dicey subjects they used, but those who got off on cow were eventually driven near the edge. And that’s you. Tell that to Dad and see how he reacts. Of course, he consumes large quantities of the stuff...so, why is he so chipper? If the neurology of music in general is still not completely clear, the explanation for this phenomenon is even murkier. Some science guys tried explaining it by saying music goes in your ear, hijacks neural pathways for a chipper mood, then zings off into bluesy territory. But your original good mood dominates and your brain tricks you into thinking you really like cow or Goth or ego.
So that’s all we can do to help rid your house of the dreaded country-western. Personally, I think this whole situation is God’s way of saying, “You. Edge. Maybe it’s time to stop living with your parents and get your own place.” Hey, maybe that’s what Dad’s saying, too.
Mattie: Why in cartoons do you always see an outhouse with a crescent moon cut in the door? — Gotta Go, San Diego
Well, maybe because there were actual outhouses with crescent moons cut in the door. Not sure I’m all enthusiastic about a guy who’s gotten off all his life by studying toilets, but I guess he’s our best source. Crapper historians say it all started in the 1600s, when people traveled long distances by carriage and stayed at inns. A private privy could have any hole cut in the door for light and ventilation, but when you had random strangers descending on your outhouses, you needed one for men and one for women. Innkeepers used the universally understood symbols for male and female, the sun and the moon. But since men could find a convenient tree to relieve themselves behind, often there was just a ladies’ outhouse. Hence, the crescent moon. Hence, the stereotype.