Inside the Brain, Behind the Music is part of an ongoing series of dispatches written for the The Beautiful Brain by neuroscientist and rock musician Joseph LeDoux. Each piece presents the personal and scientific background of a song from his band The Amygdaloids‘ latest brain-themed album, Theory of My Mind (Amazon, iTunes, Amygdaloids.com)
Part 6: “Brainstorm”
The science of mind and brain comes into my songs in various ways. Sometimes it’s very literal, as in our song “Fearing,” which uses a dark poem about fear from Emily Dickinson for the core lyrics. Other times the connection is more metaphorical–“Refractory Time,” written by Daniela Schiller (The Amygdaloids’ drummer) and me, symbolizes the time one needs to recover from a failed relationship by the refractory time of a neuron (the time it takes for the neuron to fire again after it has just fired an exciting electrical impulse).
The subject of this Dispatch, “Brainstorm,” is an attempt to put myself into the mind of someone in a manic state. It’s a raucous track with nods to Pink Floyd, The Jefferson Airplane, and The Strawberry Alarm Clock. Though the song has a playful quality, I don’t mean any disrespect to people who experience such states. The song should be considered in the general context of our music, which is all about raising public awareness about how the brain creates the mind, including pathological states of mind.
Mania is associated with excess dopamine levels. It can be a chronic condition, often with a strong genetic component, but can also be induced acutely by sleep deprivation and drugs such as stimulants. The song incorporates several features that can occur in mania, such as exuberance, a sense of well being and self importance, and paranoia.
Here are a few lines give you a feel for the song: “It’s raining in my brain, I’m feeling no pain, everybody thinks I’m insane, but I’m just on my game, I don’t see the harm, just having a brainstorm.” Another verse goes: “Rain keeps coming down, thoughts are more profound, everybody’s staying clear, they hope I’ll disappear, I’m not alarmed, it’s just a brainstorm.” The chorus continues the pyschedelic state of mind implied by the verses: “Thoughts are racing, colors are flying, magic’s in the air, memories are flashing, legs are dashing, don’t have a care, don’t have a care.”
Full lyrics can be found at this link: Brainstorm Lyrics
We have a home-grown music video of “Brainstorm” put together by Daniela and Tyler Volk (The Amygdaloids’ lead guitarist) on the occasion of my birthday last December. It’s hilarious watching lab members, colleagues at NYU, and band members lip sync the lyrics. One of the world’s leading memory researchers, my good friend Yadin Dudai, also makes an appearance.
The wild and crazy solos in “Brainstorm,” which are done brilliantly by Tyler on the recording, were taken into rock outer space by Lenny Kaye (The Patti Smith Group) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate; The Miracle 3) at our recent CD party, which featured these two legendary guitarists, as well as performances on other songs by Ward White (McGinty and White), Pete and Maura Kennedy (The Kennedys), and Kathena Bryant (The Hippy Nuts). It was amazing how, with no rehearsal at all, Wynn and Kaye plugged in and played the song as if it were part of their repertoire. They locked into each other’s every bent and distorted note, responding in kind, or taking the solo in a completely different direction that the other followed until he charged off into his own next area of sonic space. Check out the live video of “Brainstorm” from the show:
The brain chemistry between Wynn and Kaye was infectious, creating a neurochemical brainstorm in each of us on stage, but also in the audience. “Brainstorm” will never be the same for the band. Each time we play the song, we will be trying to reach out into the rock stratosphere, where every note ever picked in The Cavern, CBJB’s, Club Lingerie, Don Hills, and every other dark, dank, rock club around the world, continues to resonate. Maybe the notes we pluck at our next gig will mesh with the eternal vibrations of Kaye and Wynn, and give us just a little edge.
Joseph LeDoux is a University Professor, Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology and Child Psychiatry at NYU. He is also the Director of the Emotional Brain Institute at NYU and at the Nathan Kline Institute. The author of two best-selling books, The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self, LeDoux is also a singer and song writer of The Amygdaloids, a band of scientists that plays music about mind and brain and mental disorders.