Music for the Attention Challenged

How long a piece of music can you listen to without drifting off? I've got a few suggestions for ADHD music lovers.
Treating ADHD Blog | posted by Bill Mehlman

I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come-what-may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life—
To get the feel of life
From jazz and cocktails.

- lyrics by William Thomas Strayhorn

OK. I'm restless; I'm drinking a little, looking forward to a rainy weekend when I can catch up on all my work. Meanwhile, I have a question. Those of you who haven't officially been diagnosed with Da Deficit, go play outside.

So here's the question, Spanky: How long a piece of music can you listen to without drifting off?

I love music. Not all music. Listening to classical music isn't as bad as a colonoscopy, but it's close. And why? Partly because the lingo makes me kack, much like the gobbledy-gook the wine people speak. I know, I know. If I understood it, it wouldn't be gobbledy-gook, it would be a contrapuntal sonata grown in gravelly soil on the south bank of the Gironde. But I don't, and at this point in my life I'm not likely to get it. And partly because I just can't follow what's going on.

My brain is conditioned to a three-minute, big spindle, 45-rpm song. Maybe longer if it was written by Johnny Mercer, or Cole Porter, or Steven Sondheim. But a long piece? Some Mahler? I Vespri Siciliani? I'm done, Jack. My feets keep tappin', but I'm on another planet.

It's only the lyrics listed above that keep me hanging in there. Words like these, written by an alcoholic, gay, African American genius who, when he indited them, while he was still in high school, had never left Pittsburgh. Words so cynical, heartbreaking, world-wise that I can't drift away. The music, also by Mr. William Thomas Strayhorn, is gorgeous and evocative (although I've heard many musicians curse the difficulties of playing this piece); but it is the verbal images that keep me tuned in. So, in the interest of providing a distraction-resistant moment of relief, here's Lush Life five versions, courtesy of NPR.

Lagniappe: One of the five renditions on the NPR site is Nancy Wilson's. I have the feeling that Nancy — who's still singing, and if you get the chance, run, don't walk — isn't as well known as she should be. Gorgeous, elegant, without, as far as I know, any of the drama that seems to go hand in glove with jazz singers, maybe too effortless, whatever. But some very hip jazz musicians put her right up there at the top, after Billie, Ella and the Divine Sarah. Check her out.

If your idea of singing is Beyoncé or Celine or, heaven forfend, Amy Winehouse: listen to Nancy. I'd love to hear comments.

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