Last week, my friend Rhedyn invited me over to her house for curry. While we sipped tea and gossiped, her Aspergers husband Dan practically bounded into the room. He was waving his hands excitedly, trying to break into our conversation. This was highly unusual as Dan usually hides when I visit, barely acknowledging my existence. ‘Ivy!’ he interrupted us, looking me in the eye, ‘you’ve got to hear this’.
I was shocked. Dan never looks me in the eye. Dan never looks anyone in the eye, not even his wife. So for him to look me in the eye and use my name, something was definitely pressing.
‘Go on then’, Rhedyn said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. ‘I’ll start the curry’.
I followed Dan into a part of their house unfamiliar to me. Rhedyn referred to it as Dan’s Sanctum Sanctorum: No Women Allowed. Opening a heavy, solid door he ushered me into a room that can only be described, not labelled.
The walls were covered with shelves. Floor to ceiling, every shelf was full of records. The old vinyl albums. Every era, every musical genre, every group, singer, song – they were all here enshrined in vinyl. There were even thick records dating back to the 1920s. In the corner, in a highly polished oak-and-glass museum case proudly displayed a collection of wax cylinders and the antique Edison phonograph to play them on.
At the centre, on a kind of dais, stood a turntable You didn’t have to be ‘in the know’ to realise that this was the highest end of high-end turntables. Rhedyn had mentioned some recent financial difficulty. Now I knew where all their money was going.
Dan stood aside, glowing with pride, watching my face as I stood, slack-jawed, taking it all in. But the show was just beginning. ‘Sit down,’ he said and, donning gloves, lovingly mounted a record in the machine. Soon the strains of the worst jazz I have ever heard was assaulting my ear drums.
‘Isn’t it great!?’ he gushed, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Just listen to those cymbals shimmer. And the bass…’ He trailed off, eyes closed, hands waving to the sound of so-called jazz so bad it brings back memories of the kind of jazz piped into very old elevators servicing Harley street surgeries. Yes, the quality of the recording was excellent. The record was free of any of those pops and glitches too often heard on vinyl. It was also terrible.
For me as a neurotypical, music is pure emotion. Unfortunately, the emotions communicated by Dan’s choice of music were miserable, nevermind the shimmer of treble and boom of bass. ‘Very nice’, I lied, rising to leave.
‘No, no, no!’ Dan leapt to his feet, ‘you’ve got to hear this.’ He pulled a Pink Floyd album from a shelf. Oh dear, no! Pink Floyd has never been my cup of tea. I’m more of a Pavarotti girl. What had I done? Obviously something terrible in a previous life to be damned to this emotional Hell.
What followed was three-quarters of an hour of bad elevator jazz, tuneless taiko drumming, Pink Floyd and even a foray into Tuvan throat singing. All of the recordings were technically excellent. They were also pure emotional misery. Dan was in Heaven; I was in Hell.
Finally, I began shooting non-verbal cues his way. I didn’t want to be rude, but I started looking at my wristwatch in a very in-your-face way. Dan, being an Aspie, never noticed. I stopped smiling and saying nice things about the music. He didn’t notice that either. Finally I rose from my chair and made a dash for it. I doubt he noticed my departure, so enraptured was he.
Head splitting, I staggered back to the kitchen where Rhedyn greeted me with an innocent, ‘So, how was that? Have fun?’
‘You know damn good and well I didn’t have fun!’ I fumed.
‘Better than you than me,’ she retorted, ‘You can escape. I can’t!’ I begged off with a headache and took an Uber home. On the way it struck me that my ordeal had given me an rare insight into the emotional world of those with Aspergers.
For most neurotypicals, music and emotion are virtually the same thing. We choose our music because of how it makes us feel by the emotions it conveys. Our musical choice of the moment is selected either to match how we are feeling at the moment or to change it.
I would suggest that to an Aspie, music does not convey emotion to nearly the same extent. It isn’t ‘pure emotion’ to them. The music they love is based on something entirely different. In Dan’s case, the quality of the recording. If it’s a really good recording, you can hear Glenn Gould singing along as he plays Bach’s Goldberg Variations. That’s what Dan values. He doesn’t have a favourite type of music. He told me he loves all music. He’ll even listen to bad elevator jazz if the recording is excellent and he won’t find it in the least depressing.
Free from the rollercoaster ride of constant, strong, dramatic emotion, Dan’s Aspergers gives him a placid temperament. In that way, I envy him. But I’ll never like Pink Floyd.
Photo by oddsock