Music for Savage Breasts and Scorned Women

I went searching for a misquotation “Music soothes a savage beast”, and found…

William Congreve writes in his tragic play The Mourning Bride (1697):

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
The silent Tomb receiv’d the good Old King;
He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg’d
Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
Why am not I at Peace?

These are the first words spoken in the play by a character. The speaker is the titular Bride herself, Almeria, and she speaks immediately after music plays; “soft Musick” according to the stage direction. Placed in context the misquoted line makes perfect sense. Almeria is saying “nice music, but it was no help.”

Given the time period, “a savage Breast” likely refers to the native people of whichever continents the Restoration-era English thought was most uncivilized. It’s made clear by the subjects of the second line that a savage was considered nearly as tough as wood or stone. Harsh, but the imagery is so compelling it gives Almeria a powerful juxtaposition to her own grief-induced immunity to the music’s soft appeal. Congreve was known for penning clever dialog, often for actresses he might have been having real life affairs with.

I was floored to learn that in The Mourning Bride Congreve also gave us the vastly more famous “no fury like that of a woman scorned”, which is also a less lovely paraphrasing of two lines spoken by the character of Zara, a captive queen:

Heav’n has no rage, like love to hatred turn’d,
Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.

I hear you Zara. Sadly, I can’t relate as well to Almeria, having lost the love of her life, not to be soothed by “By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.” I’ve never experienced any emotion that wasn’t helped by the right musical selection, but we live in a golden era of musical variety. Too much variety some would say. The more the merrier, I say. The more savage, the better.

Musical Mithridatism

“Why do you listen to angry music?” The question caught me off guard, when my mom posed it out of the blue. Why did I? Angst alone would have been an adequate explanation then, I was an angsty teen. Which begs the question; Why do I still listen to angry music now, as a happy adult?

At least one reason is people keep making truly great angry music. Ken ModeHead Wound City, Meat Wave, Retox, and Frameworks have all impressed the hell out of me with recent or upcoming releases. My musical projects aim only to keep such good company. An awful lot of us keep on creating whilst being in a bad way. Why?

Counterintuitively, angry music listeners and angry music makers have always been the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Many friends and coworkers have expressed the same, that a person’s angry music preference (dare I say penchant) and a deeply positive, empathetic personality go hand in hand. Now there’s got to be some common thread among all these lovely hate mongers. I call this phenomenon musical Mithridatism.

Mithridatism is the practice of protecting oneself against a poison by gradually self-administering non-lethal amounts.

From Wikipedia

I first heard of Mithridatism in Naseem Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile – where he posits that to become a thing that thrives on unexpected shocks, stressors, volatility, and such, one must engage rather than avoid these hazards.

Having a reliable means to release your anger is a beautiful thing… and a beautifying thing.

Taking your poison pills of powdered angst on the regular makes you a little less likely to get angry, and when you inevitably  do still feel your blood boil you have the antidote waiting. Just press play and enjoy the noise. Silently screaming along is almost as satisfying as actually screaming in the faces of your tormentors. And it’s a lot less messy than smashing things.

Finally, listening to and making music aren’t far removed neurologically speaking. In fact, there’s plenty of brain scan evidence showing that when musicians think about music it activates the same regions of the brain as when they play, in spite of the fact they aren’t holding an instrument. I think this extends to non-musician listeners and acting out the aggressions expressed in the music they listen to. As far as your brain is concerned, listening to pissed off music is a similar enough activity to expressing your own pissed-off-ness.

So what’s your favorite anger anthem?