My thoughts and out loud thoughts on composition, performance, and many things musical.

What Music Changed You?

I’d like to make this post an interactive one. I’ll explain the music that made a significant change in my life, and I’d like to hear yours. Comment below this post, or even in an e-mail (

What Music Changed You?

I have two major answers to the question: one band changed entirely what I consider “good” music to be, and another composer saved me.

1. The Punch Brothers changed my musical ears, drastically. 

The Punch Brothers, and more specifically Chris Thile, wrote a suite called The Blind Leaving the Blind. In it, Chris Thile writes about his divorce, the process, and the coping of it with his fellow bandmates. The music is beautiful and intricate with some wonderful counterpoint. He writes like a technical composer but they play it like a rock band on their seemingly bluegrass instrumentation: mandolin, guitar, banjo, violin, double bass.

I have listened to this piece of music SO many times. It’s beautiful. It captivates me, makes me weep, and when I heard it, I dropped all the music I had listened to up that point behind. Clearly there was a realm of music that I knew was somewhere inside of me, and this tune, this band, had released it.

I have never put up with music that doesn’t fulfill my requirements of moving me physically and intellectually since hearing this.

2. Gustav Mahler saved me.

Mahler was a guy who had a rough go of life, within himself. On the surface, it looked like most things were fine. He excelled in the music business, was widely known, cherished by many (hated too…), had a pretty wife, kids, and made a living doing what he loved. He was smart.

He experienced pain and suffering like we all do, some worse than others. He lost family members early on, he lost his daughter, he was very ill. Love and death were big constants in his life.

He also thought very critically all the time. He wanted things perfect. He insisted things were perfect. Sleep was lost in the name of music and art. He was manic. He created mental chaos from the life chaos that already existed. He questioned everything—to the point of blurring the lines between dream and reality. Then he questioned that too. He argued. He won. He lost. One thought prompted another. He left no time to breathe. Mahler was a man of constant fierceness and dedication. Strong and slim, he wrote using all of his energy until he had to recharge, if he did recharge.

That feeling you get right before impact in a car crash, the one where all of your muscles tense up—that must have been what he felt so often.

Mahler saved me. I have felt the things he’s felt. So often. The only battle I constantly fight is the one I create in my head. I have a lot of things to say, things I think others would enjoy and relate to, and would spark wealthy conversation, but it comes in rapid, chaotic, cellular division. C’est la vie, I guess…

Like we all do, I have had my own tragedies, my own losses, my own love. I too have suffered, rejoiced, questioned the world, and argued it.

When I think about Mahler’s life, what he went through, what he must have thought and what that would have looked like, I really relate to him. I like to imagine if he allowed me in on a conversation with him, we’d get along just fine. We’d share and find balance and commonalities. I am humble and am NOT saying I have his musical genius. I’m talking about how we view the world. But then again, I think I know what I’m doing. I think Mahler and I would get along.

I honestly do.

His music, all of it, is always packed with such heavy emotion that I can’t help but break down in tears, and enjoy the healing process. For me, what he writes, says all the things I can’t quite articulate with my lexicon and allows me to get them off my chest. 

Fun fact, I have his signature on my back. Image

So: What Music Changed You?

Let me know in a comment below or e-mail me.


4 responses

  1. i’ll keep my reply short and sweet.

    five iron frenzy was the first band i ever CHOSE to like. the first record i ever bought with my own money. the first music my parents didn’t spoon feed me. the music was punk ska…and there were damn near 10 people in the band. it wasn’t something i felt was an accessible influence. meaning…i didn’t feel i could make that music. i barely had ten friends, let alone ones that were musicians.

    dashboard confessional was the first artist/band i ever listened to that made me feel like i could do that thing. i could be a songwriter. i could make music. but the subject matter was straight forward and i grew disenchanted with what i felt like (at the time) were limitations in lyrical landscape.

    the weakerthans (and particularly john k. samson) opened my lyrical world to the poetic one. there is an entire song that happens in every moment of your day. you just have to find it.

    October 25, 2013 at 3:21 pm

  2. Derek Overstreet

    Cool post, Joe. So many ways to come at this one…

    I think for me nearly every song I listen to reminds me of the first time I really seriously listened to it, so it’s kind of more a continuum of songs for me rather than like a few pivotal ones. I’m sure it’s like that for you too to some extent. For me, a Randy Travis song makes me think of high school and Working for the Weekend (yes, the Chris Farley Chippendale skit song haha) makes me think of grinding out poker heads up listening to it on incessant loop.

    I guess the ones I’m thinking mostly of right now as making me really think in a way that transcends music are by great songwriters who use plain language, like John Prine (Christmas in Prison, Paradise, Sam Stone) and Paul Thorn (You Might Be Wrong, I Have a Good Day).

    If I had to pick one with words, I think I definitely go with You Might Be Wrong by Paul Thorn. It’s essentially a poem for reason. It distills the idea that we shouldn’t claim certainty about things we can’t be certain about. Doubting is a core value to science and progress and law. Only when we overcome reasonable doubts, should we be willing to accept things as true. This song says that without sounding like a stuffy philosopher.

    If it’s one without words, which may be what you mean, the most moving to me is Big Country by Bela Fleck, and especially this version: It’s cool in the same way that seeing a monkey’s emotional response to something being so similar to a human’s. You have two things which are deeply related but distant distant cousins, yet when you see them you can just tell they are connected in a real way. I think the Celtic instrumentation and the bluegrass instrumentation and the composition all just fit perfectly.

    Two other banjo tunes as close runners up:
    First is Cripple Creek, because it’s such a blank canvas of a tune but just hitting that lick (8,4,6,8,5 pinch) in the second bar was the first ever lick I was able to pull off, so that was special and empowering. Kind of like riding a bike for the first time.
    Second is this version of Cherokee Shuffle: Makes me want to burn my banjo and just follow Noam Pikelny around the country. But it certainly forces you to look at things differently, as I think the Punch Brothers stuff does as well.

    November 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

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  4. Pingback: 2013 – Late to the Game, So Much Great Music – Year in Music | Music should move you intellectually & physically

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