I love when I have no idea why a pop song enters my head. Today it’s “Tenderness” by General Public. Like, I truly do not have any point of reference for this song. No part of it is sampled in anything I listen to. I had no idea who sang this song before I looked it up. I also had no idea General Public was a cute biracial band. Look at them!
I like to think it’s music magic when a song this good pops into my head. Like someone sent it to me psychically. So thank you, to whoever heard this and thought of me.
Now try to send a song psychically to someone. I hope they hear it.
Magic can be mundane. My friend Dave, the cultural anthropologist, studies shamanism and magic, and explained to me once that what many believed historically to be magic was just proximity.
If you eat tiger dick you’ll have a better dick. Tigers are dope and have no problem getting hard, so if I eat its dick I’ll also get hard, is the example he gave me. I think those were the exact words he used to describe the phenomenon, too. The man has a PhD from Columbia. luls
Anyway that’s food proximity as magic.
So sometimes music magic is just inheriting the power of a sound. Norwegian black metal prevents frostbite. D’Angelo makes everyone sexier. And a lot of times the magic of proximity is just sharing a song. Why do so many people get so excited when “a favorite” comes on the speakers in a public venue? I swear, Empire State of Mind makes everyone at Sing Sing go bananas. Every time. Isn’t that magic? Bobby soxers losing their minds to the Beatles. Magic as mayhem. [I realize there are entire books written on the subject of musical hysteria so go look them up. Tell me if you think I should read one.]
Lullabies are magic. If you sing Always and forever by Heatwave every single night to sooth your fussy baby, by the age of 2, he will fall asleep to just the opening phrase. When he hears the recording of it, he will stop dead in his tracks and look for me. It takes 721 days but it works.
Listening comprehension is magic. There’s a romantic notion of the musician who doesn’t know how to "read” music; possibly someone who trained only by ear. Well if you do know how to read music, listening to it being performed is magic. I can’t tell you the number of piano etudes I’ve tried and failed to play, only to hear it performed beautifully and finally get the notes to fit perfectly under my fingers.
High notes and fast licks are card tricks. You know it’s learned, but you’re still impressed. Mariah’s dog whistle is basically her guessing I’m holding a solitary Ace of Diamonds because she’s memorized eight octaves of a card deck.
What about when you fall in love with someone other than the charismatic lead singer of a band you’d never heard of? I think, if you’ve ever memorized the eye contact you made with a listless drummer in a band, you too, believe in magic.
Love songs are black magic. You never want to hear one after it’s harmed you.
The opposite is true of songs about heartbreak. Those songs protect us forever.
Music outside of song, on the edge of sound, is shamanism. Again, Dave “tiger dick cultural anthropologist”: most shamans, we know now, were psychological misfits, and people read into the parts that made sense enough to make up a religion inside what didn’t. Now I’m paraphrasing him the way I want to because magic is about filling in the vacancy of sound.