Sunday, 8 January 2012

Music - Emotion - Youth

An early observation of the effects of music on a young man

In 2004 I began working for a youth inclusion programme called Education Unlimited at the City of Bristol college. This was a time when there were many short engagement projects being hosted for young people who were considered to be out of education, employment and training (often referred to as NEET) and a large proportion of my job was spent recruiting NEET young people from across the city and accompany them to these sessions, acting in a mentors role. One afternoon on returning from an outdoor survival day in the Mendips, I was sat in a minibus next to a 16 year old young man called Jim who was taking the chance to relax from the physically challenging day. Jim was a friendly and likable lad from a dysfunctional family on a hard estate in north Bristol; his mother was alcohol dependant and living with an abusive partner, his sister had recently moved out to a flat of her own and Jim did not have contact with his father. He had a physical disability resulting from cerebral palsy, but he was a resilient character that appeared outwardly confident and determined not to let such issues hold him back. His attitude was very much ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ and he gave his all to the opportunities that came his way.

As we were nearing our drop-off point, over the radio came a song of which Jim was fond and he lent forward and asked the driver to turn the volume up. The song was called ‘How Come?’ by a rap-band called D12 (the lead vocalist of whom is better known as Eminem) and almost immediately Jims eyes closed and I watched as he quietly rapped along to the lyrics of the song.

“How come we don't even talk no more
And you don't even call no more
We don't barely keep in touch at all
And I don't even feel the same love when we hug no more
And I heard it through the grape vine we even beefin now
After all the years we been down
ain't no way no how, this bullshit can be true
We family and ain't a damn thing changed, unless it's you.”
(How Come? – D12, 2004)

An event such as this could have easily passed me by and blended into the mayhem of the rest of the day, but after seven years this powerful memory of a young man reciting such evocative words is still very clear to me. When Jim spoke those lyrics he did so with a passion that lashed out viciously and I could see that through his clenched hand, tight lips and closed eyes, he meant every single word.

I recall this event as I am beginning to think about how I might use music to work with a specific client group evaluating health and social benefits. I am inspired to work with young men of a similar age to Jim and explore the connections that are made between music that is familiar to them and various emotional states.

*Names have been changed to retain anonymity