Mail a complaint Michael Burton’s Pathetic Music Page

I’m different, and I don’t care who knows it. —Randy Newman, I’m Different

I often go for weeks—sometimes, months—without listening to music.

I still hear the inescapable jingles, background music on TV, and the stuff that’s piped into public buildings. But little music I hear gives me any satisfaction. Most of my life is spent without a musical “backing track.”

When I was young, we almost always had a radio playing in the kitchen. During a thunderstorm, the speaker would crackle with static at every flash of lightning. Often we could listen to an approaching storm long before we could see it; we could hear it long after the storm passed by. I found something vaguely eerie about the crackle of an unseen thunderstorm, invisible but unquestionably real.

Our radio was usually tuned to WLW, a powerful station about a hundred miles away, in Cincinnati. Sometimes an unseen atmospheric disturbance would play havoc with radio reception, and “the fifty-thousand watt clear-channel voice” of WLW would contend with the drifting voices of lesser stations, or with a mysterious chorus of electronic crackles, buzzes, hums and whistles. Listening to these echoes from an unseen world, I could get goosebumps.

Goosebumps. That’s what I look for in music.

Humans and music have cohabited this planet for thousands of years now, but I think we haven’t really made much progress toward solving the great mystery—What the heck is that?

Where does this stuff come from? Why does it move us?

Music may have been invented before the spoken word. It seems almost like the language of another species. At its best, music seems to speak to a part of ourselves about which we understand very little. It can carry ideas and emotions when words fail. It carries echoes from a vast unseen world. It can give us goosebumps.

Goosebump music is exceedingly rare. When you find it, treasure it. Grapple it unto thy soul with hoops of steel.

Kate Bush

    It took me more than three years to realize I had been hypnotized.

The Chieftains

    Traditional Celtic music seems to be growing in popularity these days. Much of its current popularity can be traced to Stanley Kubrick’s decision to use the Chieftains’ authentic irish folk music in his film Barry Lyndon. In the years since, their music has been used in many films and television programs.

Jethro Tull

    I didn’t own a single Tull album when I saw the band live during the Aqualung tour. I fixed that the next day. The greatest concert I’ve ever seen.

  • I took some black and white photos at a later Tull concert.

Sarah McLachlan

    So, what do you think? Pretty laid-back music, something to go with your herbal tea, maybe? Does a nice, tepid live show? Well, on Halloweeen night 1997, Sarah McLachlan put on the second greatest concert I’ve ever seen.

Jimmy Webb

    ”MacArthur Park” is funny now. “Someone left the cake out in the rain”—sheesh, the sixties were weird! The song is corny, cryptic and overwrought. But I liked it then, and I like it now. I like almost everything I’ve heard from prolific songwriter Jimmy Webb.