ADAMCZYK: You steer the car while I do my air guitar solo

Ed Adamczyk

It was one of those things I had never heard of, yet 10 minutes later it seemed I could not live without: satellite radio. Car radio music without commercials but in a broad assortment of categories, and all the sports and news chatter I could handle. Six months of it came free with a new car, and of course I subscribed to it when that expired.

I have long been impressed and mystified by the hold that music has over me, notably that phenomenon I have mentioned prior, and to which several readers have agreed: you enter your car in a lousy or neutral mood and some memory-laden song on the radio commands your attention, so you crank it up and perhaps sing along and within seconds your disposition changes. Satellite radio’s Channel 20, featuring the work of Bruce Springsteen, does it for me, but the fact is that any delivery method will do, and it will do it faster than any alcohol, drug or session of counseling.

While it did not use me as a test subject, Science Has Confirmed It. “The influence of music on mood and performance while driving,” a scientific study by Marjorlein D. van der Zwaag and colleagues, was published online in the National Library of Medicine by the National Institute of Health, an agency of the National Institutes of Health. That’s a hell of a national bona fide, and a cursory reading by this non-scientist suggests that it confirms my own personal findings.

I present cherry-picked comments from the paper’s abstract to support my conclusions, something I learned from the Republican Party:

“Overall, the current study demonstrates that music listening in car influences the experienced mood while driving, which in turn can impact driving behavior.”

“The current study shows that listening to music can positively impact mood while driving, which can be used to affect state and safe behavior. Additionally, driving performance in high demand situations is not negatively affected by music.”

It also tossed in something about “additional swerving” during “narrow lane width drives,” and although I’ve never had that problem while blasting some musical favorite or memory, increased speed was occasionally observed, notably once while driving down the I-90 one sunny day while the local classical radio station played all eight minutes of the “William Tell Overture.” The experience felt cartoon-like. Speed Racer on the Thruway.

I should toss in that Maurice Ravel’s 1928 orchestral work “Bolero,” which involves about 16 minutes of a steadily-building crescendo and sounds like a musical equivalent of boiling water – slowly getting hotter, slowly getting hotter and hotter and then exploding – and is regarded as the musical equivalent of the act of sex, is also useful for rounding corners in a packed parking lot while looking for a place to park, but I digress.

“We examined whether music can induce moods during high and low simulated drives.”

Of course it can, and this is Exhibit A talking. One of the many benefits of growing older is the number of musical experiences in memory, and if I studied Latin declensions in high school with the assurance I can today summon lyrics to songs – rock, advertising jingles, warhorse opera arias, tunes written 50 years before I was even born – my life would have been different. Not necessarily better but different.

A facet of satellite radio, for all its available variety, is that each channel offers a closed program: don’t expect the Beatles on the reggae channel, and don’t expect Buffalo Bills information on the finance channel. As such, you drive down the road with essential but limited information: any ground shaking news from politics or Wall Street or NASA will not be delivered while you’re blasting, and reveling in, your favorite music.

It makes the driver more isolated than ever, and remember, this is the society that goes outside if its members want to be alone. It’s just you, the road and the traffic, the dashboard and whatever you’re listening to. Magnify what you’re listening to and you have a game changer of a mood changer.

In short, I am vindicated by science and I feel good about it. As someone who has experienced his share of crummy moods over the years, my preferred antidote is thus correct, justified, legal, available and relatively inexpensive. Moreover, I am pleased that my government burned up a few medical-scientific dollars to look into this matter and confirm my own observations.

Look for me. I’ll be the one bellowing lyrics as I roll with the car windows up, and I’d bet I’ll be in a better mood than you.

Contact Ed Adamczyk at

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