Music in My Head: Motivator or Sensory Overload?

The soundtrack of our lives.

Tracks on my running mp3 player: 47

Bands slated to play at our half-marathon this coming weekend: 7

Months ago that I realized Flo-Rida sampled Etta James on “Good Feeling”: 2

So. It’s official. I’m now one of those old people who complain about music being too loud.

When my husband and I were dating, we occasionally went to super-swanky places like “Outback” or “Macaroni Grill”… big, open places with loud music and TVs and people talking like it was two a.m. at a dance club. When they said the wait time was an hour, we weren’t bothered. No problem. We could stand and talk and drink and look around for as long as we needed to. We even (I don’t recommend this) secretly laughed at people, usually older than we were, who couldn’t handle the wait, complained about the loud music and ate at home.

We are now these people.

When my son was born, I decided that I wanted him to grow up knowing the classics. More specifically, The Beatles. There he was at 2 months old, flapping his arms on our bed and squealing to “Hard Day’s Night.” There I was, bouncing him on my hip to “Here Comes the Sun.” While I cooked dinner, my husband would circle the downstairs carrying the little crying bundle to “Eleanor Rigby.” (Turns out, it’s not a real upper of a song; who knew?)

And there we were on our anniversary, at a nice, quiet little Italian restaurant with divine vegetable lasagna… listening to “Hard Day’s Night.” And “Here Comes the Sun.” And even, yes, “Eleanor Rigby.” When the maitre d’ stopped by to ask us how our meal was going, we just looked at each other.

“What? Is something wrong?” the maitre d’ asked, searching our plates for signs of huge roaches or undercooked eggplant or gnats in our wine.

“It’s… the music,” my husband said.

“You don’t like The Beatles?” the maitre d’ asked.

“No, no, we actually love them, but… we’ve been indoctrinating our baby into rock culture 24-7. On our night out, we were kind of hoping for something less… baby friendly.”

“Ohhhh kaaaaayyyy,” the maitre d’ said, turning towards a server and probably rolling his eyes. “Eighty-six The Beatles.”

We then ate our Italian comfort food to the strains of Ravel or Chopin or maybe even Count Basie. I don’t remember.

One time, several years ago, Urban Outfitters opened at a mall near us. I took my precious little preschooler right up to the door, walked in… looked at one t-shirt and walked out. The music was so loud and bass-driven that would you believe it? She still can’t hear me when I ask her to come set the table. She’s 9 years old now. See? Permanent hearing loss.

Sometimes, the music at a store makes me buy stuff. My husband doesn’t believe me about this, but it’s true. When I browse at Nordstrom Rack, trance music plays, usually a female who repeats a lot of stuff over and over to a sort of mystical, dance music beat. Sometimes even, it sounds like she’s singing things like, “Those shooooooes are soooo cute, those shooooooes are soooo cute, buy them buy them buy them…” Sort of a love song to shoes and cute dresses. This is a problem.

An opposite problem is when the music is fine, but a weird, repetitive sound forces me to leave the store before I lose my grip on sanity. (Come to think of it, my husband may have had a hand in this one.) A Target opened nearby a few months ago, and the store had a bum emergency door. Every time I visited to browse the sale tank tops and Natori for Target robes, the emergency door made this never-ending “behbehbehbehbehbehbeh” sound. It is very sad that I only managed to swipe (and pay for) a few of those choice items. Honey, you’re welcome.

My point is, music can wield powers of both good and evil.

I rock an old-school mp3 player, akin to the late ’80s-era cell phone that came in a box the size of a briefcase. I hook that baby onto my left arm, and it causes me to run in a Quasimodo-like fashion.

I really love the 47 tracks that I initially downloaded about seven years ago. I’ve added to them (Mystify by INXS) and deleted some that didn’t work so well (some X-rated rapper thing that my husband put on there without realizing it. It made me blush everytime I ran. I was afraid young children and puppies might hear the harsh language and be scarred for life.)

Here are some of the songs that still work for me when I run:

  • Anything by Black Eyed Peas
  • Anything by Justin Timberlake
  • Just Dance–Lady Gaga
  • Stronger–Kanye West
  • Been Caught Stealing–Jane’s Addiction
  • Opportunities–Pet Shop Boys
  • Hot in Here–Nelly
  • I See You Baby…–Groove Armada
  • I Wanna Be Sedated–The Ramones
  • Like to Get to Know You Well–Howard Jones
  • D’yer Mak’er–Led Zeppelin
  • Dyslexic Heart–Paul Westerberg

Which songs motivate you when you exercise? Which new songs do you want to add?