Music, the Opium of the Masses

Karl Marx is famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for saying, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” Right church, different pew, I think. It’s music that is the opium of the masses, which may explain why churches resonate with song, the nearer God to be.

Unconvinced? You need only walk along city sidewalks or ride in the subway to see as much. People with earplugs, now wireless and white, poking out of their ears as they walk or sit to the beat of their own drummers, avoiding at all costs engagement with their fellow man.

Thomas Lux (Latin for “light”) was on to this. In fact, he penned a poem to music, specifically music without words which, by his reckoning, loses nothing without the voices. There’s something primal in the beat, he was convinced. Something beautiful, like a field of poppies in bloom.


Regarding (Most) Songs
by Thomas Lux

Whatever is too stupid to say
can be sung.
—JOSEPH ADDISON (1672-1719)

The human voice can sing a vowel to break your heart.
It trills a string of banal words,
but your blood jumps, regardless. You don’t care
about the words but only how they’re sung
and the music behind—the brass, the drums.
Oh the primal, necessary drums
behind the words so dumb!
That power, the bang and the boom and again the bang
we cannot, need not, live without,
nor without other means to make sweet noise,
the guitar or violin, the things that sing
the plaintive, joyful sounds.
Which is why I like songs best
when I can’t hear the words, or, better still,
when there are no words at all .


Lux was fond of wandering into a patch of end rhymes before returning to his regularly-scheduled free verse. Thus “sung,” “drums,” “drums,” “dumb.” Dumb but necessary. And primal because of “the bang and the boom and again the bang,” which is Lux’s way of employing a sound device (alliteration) and rhetoric (polysyndeton) to the rhythm and the cause.

It works. I should know. I sometimes offer myself up to music, too. Or lose myself to it. And write to it.

And I, too, prefer wordless music–at least when I write. It seems to lead me to heights without leading me astray as the distraction of lyrics might.

What about you? Ever been to the church, mosque, or temple of music? And ever notice how important it is to its second cousin twice removed (but returned), poetry?