Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Cult of Personality

There’s a common tendency to personify inanimate objects. Assigning feelings, intentions, and attitudes to a computer, car, or the weather (if only metaphorically) allows us easier interaction with those things. That’s just how we’re programmed. According to evolutionary psychologists, our genes grow far more brain modules for dealing with people and animals than abstract forms.

By automatically assigning personalities to albums, we make them more accessible to instinctual understanding, without limiting our ability to logically understand them. It’s not even necessary to know much about the band or singer. We subconsciously create a persona for the album itself (separate from the creators) as we listen.

With that in mind, what albums have personalities similar to those of real-life people or animals? What would your favorite albums look like if they were made human? How would they act?


SonicRyan said...

I don't necessarily make any personalized connections with any albums, and if I do, its usually more because of the cover or inside art work, a music video, or some other already established visual that correlates with the song/album/whatever. Take, for example, the picture you have in this particular blog post. I immediately think of the Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight," and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Knowing you, Josh, you probably do too...

However, I might argue that sense of smell is the closest related to memory, at least for me, as I can associate any song/album with a personal experience. This is sort of related, because certain songs/albums often make me think of certain people: friends, lovers, family, old acquaintances, babysitters, you name it. But again, there's precedent. I never created or imagined a personality for said song/album, I just took an existing memory went from there.

Its too bad too, because I wish I had some uber-creative answer and explanation as to why I, hell, I dunno, always imagine Ok Computer as a 10 foot tall peacock that wields a sword and shield. But I don't. I could lie, I guess...

Hackworth Artifex said...

I obviously don't have an uber creative answer myself. I would have put it in the post! hehe

I just thought the question was interesting enough to pose. I know what you mean about associating albums with memories. I've got a lot of those too.

For instance, I will never be able to hear OK Computer again without thinking about a 10 foot tall peacock. ;-)

Gossip♥Grrl said...

This is great!! I don't really think up a persona for my albums but many of them take me back to a place in time that I will never forget. It's like whoa...I totally could remember what I was feeling around that time. Sometimes I even put something on I haven't listened to in ages just to see how I react to it. It's really freaking crazy! Or maybe I'm just crazy, hard to tell. :)

Like SonicRyan said I more associate an album with the cover art or inside artwork more than anything. For example, Boys For Pele always brings to mind Tori Amos breastfeeding that pig! I will never burn that image out of my memory. Ever.

When I think of Sleater-Kinney I automatically think of this certain black & white photograph of matter what album I'm listening to. When I think of Tool, the Undertow artwork always comes up first, even though the artwork for Aeima was the fuckin' coolest thing I had ever seen at the time.

Although...I did want to marry Neutral Milk Hotel's Aeroplane Over the Sea. I pictured myself cuddling it at night and whispering sweet nothings to it.

I could go on forever but I'll stop now before I get any weirder. :)

Femme Fatale said...

This is an interesting question.

Ordinarily I would say I don't anthropomorphize albums. That said, after writing that BH review I can't stop thinking of Devotion as a real, living person that I've somehow wronged by giving her too low of a score because I'm too chicken to go with my heart.

I doubt that would have happened had I not written the review that way, though.

I agree with GG about Aeroplane. It's truly a concept album, maybe the best I've ever seen, and it's the entire package from the lyrics to the music to the album art. But I still don't think I would go so far as to say I think of it as a person. Except maybe Jeff Mangum curled in a ball on the floor trying to not to see incandescent bugs crawling on the carpet.

(BTW, did anyone else read that old NMH interview with Mangum that P4K posted a couple weeks ago? You need to. There's this wonderful part where the interviewer asks Mangum if sex grosses him out.)

The Moon said...

The only problem with this idea is in the first line...

"There’s a common tendency to personify inanimate objects."

unfortunately music itself is not an object, it's a sound or wave form. So I don't think any one hear is too far off base of where they should be. While any one of us may "assign feelings, intentions, and attitudes" to say the physical album via its cover art or liner notes I don't think that is so easily stretched to the sound coming out of the speakers.

If anythign I would have to go with Ryan on this one...

Many albums bring back smells, people, and in general memories though my initial encounters with them.

The Toadies - Rubberneck will probably always remind me of sneaking out of my parents house at night in JRHS/HS. Running down dimly lit streets, ducking from cars, the cool night air and rush of adrenaline...

panopticon said...

I agree with a lot of what my blogtemporaries (see, it sounds intellectual if you take two words and smash them together) say.

I don't necessarily view albums as living, breathing constructs - rather, as snapshots of my life when that album was part of it.

I remember going to the record store with my Dad and convincing him to buy me Siamese Dream.

I remember the furor caused in my hometown when Trent Reznor ripped up a Book of Mormon on stage after Marilyn Manson was banned from playing at the Delta Center due to his music being "too Satanic." It made me listen to Downward Spiral all the more, pretty much all though 8th-9th grade.

I remember in 1998 when I graduated high school and had no idea what the fuck I was going to do then, spending the whole summer listening to Prodigy and Crystal Method and Underworld, staying out till 4 AM after work.

I remember I was a year behind everyone else on Grandaddy because I was just in too damn good of a mental place to give it an appropriate listen.

Music really is the soundtrack of our lives, our own custom-tailored compilation to our unique experiences.