Ask John Cusack What Came First The Music Or The Misery?

John Cusack must be a student of the Law of Attraction. His film, High Fidelity, opens with him sitting in the dark with headphones on. As the camera dollies around we hear this inner monologue:

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, watching violent videos as if some sort of culture of violence will take them over. No one worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

This is not the first time John has pointed out the potential negative effects of popular music. If you remember way back to one of his first movies, Better Off Dead, there is a scene where he’s scanning the radio after being dumped by his girlfriend. Every song he finds is about breaking up. Eventually he rips the radio out of the dashboard and tosses it out the window.

From a Law of Attraction perspective we could all benefit from a bit more awareness of the music we listen to. Often we are in environments where music plays in the background. When we go to work or go shopping we know there is music playing but we’re focused on something else so it just floats into our minds in a subliminal sort of way.

And these musical and lyrical messages, many of them negative, have a long-lasting impact on how we feel about ourselves and about the world around us.

But potentially worse is when we sing along with a favorite song, belting out the words to another heartbreak song. Then, later on, we wonder why our relationships keep ending in heartbreak!

Remember, What You Focus On Expands!

Now, as a one-time singer/songwriter I understand the cathartic process that comes from writing songs about heartbreak and loneliness and youthful angst. The process of putting words and music to an emotion or experience opens the door and allows the energy out so that you can move on.

When I look back at some of the songs I wrote 10-years ago I’m amazed that they could have actually come out of me! I’m just not in the same place any longer.

[Author’s aside] It must be incredibly difficult for famous musicians to sing the popular songs that they wrote long ago. I wonder how James Taylor feels every time he is asked to sing Fire and Rain.

And as a lover of music I also know that there are times when nothing is more helpful than a good dose of a sad song. Music can absolutely help activate some emotion that is moving through me but hasn’t quite found a doorway out.

Putting on a cathartic song and singing along can bring out the emotion and allow the energy to move. When used with awareness in this manner music is a powerful tool for moving up the emotional scale. This is a positive, uplifting use of music.

But when we constantly and unconsciously subject ourselves to songs of “heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss,” as John says, the impact on our emotional state and our vibrational offering can keep us where we are on the emotional scale or even move us down.

One of the best musical lessons I ever received came from my classical voice instructor. Because I was singing mostly in foreign languages she had me translate the lyrics word for word so that I would understand what I was singing. She wanted me to be able to feel the lyrics both in my own language and through my own personal experience. It was tedious work. But in the end, even if I didn’t have a literal translation of the lyrics, I had a personal understanding of what the song meant for me.

Ultimately, one of the reasons I stopped my classical voice training was because the vast majority of those operatic arias are about loss and death and pain and suffering. Not for me, thank you!

When we hear a song in our own language it’s easy to assume that we “know” what the song means. But if we took the time to “translate” the lyrics into our own personal experience we might be shocked to discover the true “meaning” of the songs we’ve been nonchalantly belting out.

The bottom line is to pay attention to the music you listen to. Just because a song is beautiful does not mean that it is uplifting. Pay attention to the lyrics. Don’t just sing along. Ask yourself if the message in the music is something you want to reinforce in your belief system and in your life.

If not, toss that radio out the window… or find some new music to listen to.

And here’s a question for you: Do you think that songs of “heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss” have a net uplifting or down turning impact on our culture? Does the potential cathartic effect of these songs outweigh the messages being reinforced in the collective unconsciousness? It’s an intriguing question and I would love to hear your thoughts.

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      15 Responses to “Ask John Cusack What Came First The Music Or The Misery?”

      1. finch on September 6th, 2007 11:39 am

        I tried to follow your advice, but I ended up 124 broken radios and $40,000 in debt.

      2. Diana on September 6th, 2007 1:01 pm

        Great site. I found this through the Abraham-Hicks archive/blog site.

        I am consciously working with the Law of Attraction in my life again after a several year cycle of “forgetting”. My sister gave me an Ipod for Christmas last year and I have filled it with meditations and Law of Attraction lectures and find it very helpful to wear and listen to just about any time I am out shopping or any other time I am out in public and exposed to lots of negative vibrations. It really helps me keep myself on track!

      3. Edward Mills on September 6th, 2007 2:04 pm

        Finch. Thanks for the good laugh!

        Diana. Welcome. That’s a great idea to carry around your own music and inspiring lectures!

      4. Annie Walker on September 7th, 2007 1:57 am

        I love it 🙂 It’s also something I’ve never thought about, despite being a semi-pro musician. The money is currently coming in from playing Stevie Nicks in a Fleetwood Mac tribute band – I’m really dissatisfied with this, and constantly feel undermined and unloved. When you consider the kind of songs that Fleetwood Mac are most famous for (I hate you, let’s break up, I’m sleeping with someone else, so there!), it’s not really a surprise that I’m unhappy I guess. I’d just never thought of it in those terms!

        On the other side of the coin, the music that I’m happiest with is my own, which is (without exception) happy and cheerful, or it’s slow ballady things then they happen to be quiet and reflective. I don’t think I’ve ever written a depressed or negative song!

        Thank you for helping me to see things clearly. I think that a change of focus in the music is called for!

      5. Dean Lacono on September 7th, 2007 5:06 am

        Hi Ed,

        I love music! Eventhough I sing best when I’m alone, at least I believe so, sometimes a song on the radio just makes me want to sing along. However, with a newer and better understanding of vibrations, I’ve made decisions to change the station or turn off the radio when a song comes on that I think would lower my vibrations. Even if it’s one I loved to sink into misery a long time ago.

        The same is with television and movies. Probably more so because of the addition of the visual component. Then we have the memory of the audio and visual to carry around lowering our vibrations.

        As parents we worry about what our children watch, so they don’t get nightmeres from watching something scary, yet many of us will watch gore, blood and death once the littles ones go to dreamland not really thinking about how our shows impact us through our dreams and vibrations.

      6. Mike on September 7th, 2007 9:42 am

        Hi Edward,

        I really like your story about your classical voice training. Talk about living your beliefs! I’ve done the same thing as Diana, and it really saves on the radio repair budget. 😉



      7. Barb on September 7th, 2007 1:39 pm

        As well as being careful about what TV shows I watch and what “news” I’ll hear, I’m also careful about the songs I’ll listen to, often changing the radio channel if there’s something negative.

        I’ve even gone so far as to change the lyrics we sing to kids’ songs. Laurie Berkner has a song with the lyrics “I’m not perfect, no I’m not”, and we change it to “I am perfect, yes I am”. Gotta do what’s best for my growing kids’ minds!! 😀

      8. Edward Mills on September 8th, 2007 2:49 pm

        Annie. Your comment pointed out a blind spot in my music awareness. I love Fleetwood Mac and never thought of them as negative. But now that you mention it, I’m remembering some of their lyrics. It really is amazing how easy it is to just let songs flow into us without awareness. One of my favorite cover songs that I play is Landslide. “till the lanslide brought us down.” I don’t want a landslide bringing me down! \

        Let me know if you ever post any of your songs. I’d love to hear them.

      9. Edward Mills on September 8th, 2007 2:53 pm

        Great points Dean. I often think about what my daughter is getting exposed to. And while it’s, obviously, not possible to filter everything negative out – nor do I think that would be a good idea – I believe there is some benefit to being aware of what our children are being exposed to.

        Mike. I can’t say that I made the decision to discontinue my voice lessons consciously. It was one of those times when I just began to sense that it was no longer working for me. And when I look back on it, I think that singing all of those negative (though extremely beautiful songs) was a big part of the reason.

      10. Edward Mills on September 8th, 2007 2:57 pm

        Barb. Your revised lyrics bring up the old point of “perfect imperfection.” I want my daughter to know that she is perfect just as she is. Not that she needs to be “perfect” in any kind of idealized picture. It’s a tricky one. And I’m not sure which one – “I’m perfect…” or “I’m not perfect” – would create a better sense of self acceptance. Ultimately, ot probably comes down more to the intention than the words.

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      14. Candice on December 13th, 2007 5:40 pm

        I agree with this so much when my significant other left me I was crushed and I listened to heart ache music it was tearing me down more emotionally. I have to say that now I am listening to music more emotionally stimulating and trust me at twenty five it is about time. I have always found music from the UK to be intriguing they have more musical genius.

      15. Alexander Fürstenberg on July 25th, 2009 8:15 am

        Art, not just music, both reflects and propagates specific values. So the broader question is, Why do we choose some values over others, especially more derivate ones. I think the answer is social conditioning. But you really have to differentiate on what level of abstraction the value in question is. The more fundamental values are inborn, while the derivate ones are basically learned. To come back to your question: How the effect is probably depends on genetics. Some ethnics have preferences for art, which would have depressing effects on people in our culture, but positive on their own people. What we have in common is that whatever we choose, we choose it to feel better afterwards, so the net effect from chosen art on the mood is always positive. I’m not so sure about imposed art for manipulative purposes. Can you uplift a depressed person with positive art? Or change a targets political philosophy? Propaganda art in totalitarian regimes suggests so. One should create a matrix to visualize the multidimensional relationship between the type of values and the modus/intention of the presentation. Something like that.

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