Archive | April 2012

Hip Lab Rats Dig Miles Davis

Miles Davis in the 1950's

Lab rats prefer Miles Davis to Beethoven – but only if they’ve listened to Miles after being injected with cocaine. When they haven’t been coked up, they prefer Beethoven – or, best of all, silence.

Those critically important findings come from a study right here at Albany Medical College. As reported by Cathleen Crowley in yesterday’s Times Union, the study made the Top 10 list of “Most Ridiculous Research on Animals of 2011″  from the California-based group In Defense of Animals. The lead editorial in today’s TU made the point that the research isn’t absurd, and that it may in fact provide important information about cues that stimulate drug cravings and lead to discovery of ways to neutralize these cues and block addiction.

But I’m more interested in the rats’ musical tastes. Since adolescence, when I actually met and spoke with Miles several times, I’ve been wild about his music. On the other hand, I’m far from a Beethoven fan, and I’ve often taken a snobbish pride in putting him down. Too bombastic, too repetitious, too harmonically mundane. Give me Bach or Bartok any day, or anything from Schumann or Brahms to 20thcentury avant-garde music. (I’m not a fan of Mozart either, but I won’t go into that.)

Ludwig Van Beethoven

But when I reread the article, I saw that the Beethoven they played for the rats was “Fur Elise,” a solo piano piece played by students the world over. So they didn’t really get a fair dose of Beethoven, in my opinion. And though I hate to admit it, I actually enjoy much of his chamber and piano music. As a teen, I even played some of the sonatas, albeit abominably – the Apassionata and the Pathetique were my favorites. But somehow I doubt the rats would have appreciated his Fifth Symphony, let alone his Ninth with its Ode to Joy.

As for the researchers’ Miles Davis selection, “Four” is a moderately uptempo tune he recorded with a quartet in the early 1950’s for the Prestige label. I still have the ten-inch LP in a carton along with other vinyl treasures I may get around to auctioning on E-Bay one of these days. Maybe the rats liked the regular rhythmic pulsation, conjuring up sense memories of their mothers’ heartbeats.

I can envision many more experiments. Do rats prefer Beethoven’s piano pieces to his symphonies? What about Beethoven vs. Mozart or Bach? And which period of Miles’s career do they like best? The early neo-bop combos, the magnificent orchestral collaborations with Gil Evans, the crossover electrified oeuvre of his later years? And how do various drugs affect their musical preferences? Do they like uptempo jazz with cocaine and mellower ballads with marijuana? Somehow I can’t picture this research happening any time soon. No big loss, really.

I was planning to end this post with my “How I met Miles and what he said to me” stories, but I couldn’t condense them into a couple of paragraphs. You’ll just have to wait till next time. So as not to miss them, why not subscribe to my blog?

Forget cool cats - we're the cool rats!

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

Bruce Springsteen

Everything’s looking so rosy today, I’m singing that catchy ditty from the 80’s, The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.”*  I’m feeling happier than I have in ages, and that scares me a little – for me, with my bipolar diagnosis, high spirits can be a precursor of over-the-top mania.

But why shouldn’t I feel elated? I started the day by scoring a ticket to the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Times Union Center next Monday. I’d assumed the concert had sold out ages ago, but an article in the TU’s Preview section said some single tickets were available, a least when they’d gone to print last night. I abandoned my breakfast, grabbed my laptop and my debit card, and less than an hour later, I had my ticket. I say “less than an hour” because it took me nearly that long to navigate all the barriers thrown up by Ticketmaster. I’m proud I remained calm and collected throughout the procedure – for fear of waking my husband, I refrained from the yelling and swearing that computer hassles are wont to provoke in me.

Twenty minutes after that, I had my ticket for CountryFest at the same venue as well. The WGNA extravaganza presale began at ten this morning, for one day only, and this time I wended my way through the Ticketmaster labyrinth with relative ease. Then, on a roll, envisioning an outing with my granddaughters, I checked out the ticket situation for the Ringling Brothers Circus and Cirque du Soleil, both coming to the TU in May. But I restrained myself without buying any – for now. I need to check with my daughter anyway.

Over-the-top spending is a red flag for mania in bipolar disorder, but I plead not guilty. I was using a debit card, after all – I haven’t used a credit card in several years. I knew I had enough in my account, and I stopped short of blowing $400 on Cirque du Soleil tickets for my whole family. My life style is fairly stripped down and simple. I usually feed my need for a music fix by ushering at The Egg and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and catching the concerts for free, but I can’t resist treating myself to an occasional luxury.

Another symptom of oncoming mania is verbal over-productivity, whether spoken or written. But isn’t that a state to be desired, especially by serious writers? Yes, it can be, in the form of hypomania, a state just shy of mania. There’s a sense of heightened wellbeing and creativity, and riding the wave can be enormously satisfying, as long as you don’t let the wave send you crashing down onto the ocean floor.

I’ve got so many blog ideas right now, I can hardly keep up with them. But I need to stay focused on Script Frenzy. I’m on track to produce 100 pages of film script by the end of April, and I’m having a ball. No doubt that’s the main reason I feel so happy – the creative log jam that’s had me stuck for ages has finally broken up, and I’m free to go with the flow.

I’ll try to sandwich a few blog posts in among my pages of film script. Here’s where you come in –  let me know if my blogging gets confused and irrational, and I’ll be sure to tell my shrink.

*My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades is a 1986 hit by the group Timbuk 3. Some Wikipedia trivia I didn’t know: this was their first and only hit, and it made VH1’s list as “One of the Greatest One-Hit Wonders” of the 80’s. The husband-and-wife duo of Pat MacDonald and Amber Cleveland originally thought of the lyrics as voicing the thoughts of a young nuclear scientist, and “bright” as referring to an impending nuclear holocaust. They were surprised when it turned into a sunny feel-good anthem suggesting a promising future.

Timbuk 3