This Song is My Heroin

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, January 26, 2018

I’ll tell myself, “Just one more time,” when I hit the << button to re-play “Maggot Brain” by Lili Haydn. It’s already the sixth time. I know full well it might be another six times before I’ll actually start feeling like stopping. That’s close to the one hour mark. Sometimes the song paralyzes me for a couple hours. I haven’t been able to enjoy another song for weeks now.

Here are two versions you can listen to but they won’t sound the same as I hear them. I play this song while reclined in my La-Z-Boy in the middle of four tall floor standing Infinity speakers playing it at a volume that makes the vibrating air feel solid to the touch.

This is a live performance where you can watch Lili’s facial expressions. I wish I could feel what she feels. Is it the same as what I feel? If I could play this song maybe I could know, but that will never happen. I can’t even remember the melody.

I usually play her CD Place Between Places to hear her version of “Maggot Brain” in its highest fidelity. Sadly, this CD is out-of-print. I wish I had an SACD version to hear even more sampled bits. Here’s how the album version sounds from Spotify in case you’re a subscriber.

I don’t even know what her other songs and albums sound like. I can’t stop playing Haydn’s version of “Maggot Brain.”

I wish I could express in words what this song does to my mind. One of the best things about drugs was listening to music while high. I gave up drugs decades ago. But listening to Lily Haydn play “Maggot Brain” over and over again has a drug like intensity. Her high is emotional, philosophical, sad, wistful, aching, transcendental, longing, regretful, spiritual, thankful, and so many more existential settings.

What’s funny is I play this song for my friends and they don’t like it. Some even hate it. My wife tolerates me getting high on it for a few repetitions but eventually, it starts makes her want to run away. Only my friend Mike loves this song too. However, I don’t think he plays it over and over again like I do.

Ever since I got into music I’ve saught the songs that make me want to repeat them endlessly. It was a burden in the old days when I had to jump up every few minutes to reposition the tone arm on the record. CDs with remotes were a godsend for my habit. When I find a song I love I repeat it like one of those rats with a button that directly stimulated its own brain. I think some rats pushed their button till they died. I keep re-playing songs until the high wears off. I assume it depletes some kind of chemical in my brain.

The reason I can’t allow myself to do real drugs anymore is that I can’t make myself stop. I guess listening to music is my methadone or nicotine patch.

Peoples emotional levels very greatly. I’ve always been a rather reserved person emotional. I don’t get very excited or depressed. When I see people going nuts over a football game I wonder what the hell are they feeling. I never jump up and down and shout for anything. My guess is some pieces of music make me feel an intense joy that comes to other people in so many different ways.

And what’s weird is I’m not even sure I hear music in the same way other people do. I can’t remember melody or lyrics to a song no matter how many times I hear it. When “Maggot Brain” isn’t playing I have no memory of it other than a kind of withdrawal feeling.

When I was young I used to think everyone experienced the world the same. Over the years I’ve slowly realized that’s completely untrue. I now assume any taxonomy of mental states would be as varied as all the forms of mammals.

All I can say is I’m immensely grateful for this song and how it makes me feel.

Lili Haydn violinist


9 thoughts on “This Song is My Heroin”

  1. Wow. And wow again. Not just a cover, but a referential tribute passed through that bow and violin (and wah-wah pedal!). It was a thrill to hear the song and the performance through another medium than Eddie Hazel’s guitar.

    And I thought I’d heard all the versions of Maggot Brain before today.

    Thanks JW. I understand what it’s like to have a musical piece reach in and strum a heart string (er, a non-scientific phrase, but I don’t have a better descriptor). Or more importantly, a song that actually bypasses all the bumf we’ve learned to deal with, block out, or pretend we don’t feel the pain from. I will have to listen to this again, and perhaps anything else she’s done: MB live, or other covers and tunes.

    I could wax philosophical about the emotional context of music and human consciousness – but that would just be a bunch of horseshit. Other than sex (and that not so that often either) there are few things that can reach in and wrench our individual reality like music. That is besides torture, major drugs, and psychological mind games of course. And of course, the occasional existential realization that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket.

    Enjoy the heck out of listening to her tell you about Maggot Brain. But don’t forget that it really is just a dream. You still have to get up and go to the john from time to time.

    Meanwhile, I’m going to put ‘Dreams’ by the Allman Bros Band on repeat for just a little while…

    1. Jim, I used to repeat play the Allman Brothers all the time back in the 1970s. When I joined Spotify I put several of their classic tunes in my All-Time Favorites playlist and hear them quite often now. But it’s been a while since I compulsive played their songs. One bad side-effect of my compulsive play is I eventually wear the song out. Then the song becomes normal and I only play it once and only once in a while.

    1. George, you’re probably typical of most music fans. I admit my behavior is compulsive. But I have to wonder if music is more thrilling to me because of my need to play it compulsively?

  2. Ah, me boyo seems that there be more than just a little bit of angst associated with this song. That and you’re edifice 0f earlier music. My brother, you are not alone in seeking for that main-line of music (and concepts/dreams/wishes) that let us find a comfy vibe. I got no reason to blave; I just know that when we hurt, the things that really mean something to us are the things that make us happy, that make us unhappy, and that make us aware of the difference.

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