Nutrition for Musicians

I remember a long long time ago, I read a book on the psychology of creativity and first ran across the concept that creative minds “digest” experiential input and, much as our bodies do with food, reassemble the digested components into new constructs. This morning for breakfast I ate a blueberry bran muffin, for lunch I ate a bowl of soup, and for dinner I ate some Thai food. My body is not, however, a chimeric conglomeration of bran, soup, and Thai food. Instead, those foods were broken down into bits and pieces which were then assembled to replace the parts of me that needed to be replaced. Similarly, in a given day a musician might hear a song that they really like, see a beautiful sunset, and share a delicious meal with a friend. All of these are taken in, somehow “digested” into elemental building blocks, stored away, combined with other previously stored building blocks, and out of this complex matrix of beauty, experience, and emotion comes… a song. It’s mysterious and spiritual.

Now, then, what if we stop eating? A body that literally stops eating gradually runs out building blocks from which replacement cells are constructed. It’s called “starvation.” And if a musician stops listening to music, stops experiencing life in a way that provides inspiration? Creative starvation.

One might say “Yes, of course, but how is it possible to stop being inspired?” As long as you’re alive, you’re experiencing something. Very few people I know are actually starving to death. But a good number of them don’t eat nutritiously. And it’s also true that a good many musicians I know don’t pay much attention to their creative nutrition. Working a 9-to-5 job, commuting on the freeway, listening to talk radio, or even maybe listening to the same playlist that they listened to in high school 20 years ago… that might all be the creative equivalent of eating fast food.

The funny thing is that I know a lot of people (maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles) who are absolutely passionate about nutrition. They follow strict doctrines about what goes into their bodies. Organic. Vegetarian. Vegan. Raw. Only foods that start with consonants. But when it comes to what goes into their minds, they might as well be in the drive-through lane at Taco Bell. (I don’t mean to pick on Taco Bell; I’m sure they now have some healthy options on their menu.)

Let’s start taking our creative diet just as seriously as our food diet. Some practical suggestions? Here’s one: How about a balanced diet of classic rock, jazz, classical, hip hop, folk, country, electronic, and experimental music? Here’s another suggestion: Go on vacation. Seriously. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Preferably somewhere where people speak a language you don’t know. Hike in a bamboo forest. Eat gelato in Rome. Go deep sea fishing. Or listen to some music; I mean really listen to it; not in the background while you’re doing something else. I mean turn off everything else, sit back, close your eyes, and listen. It’s kind of like going to a gourmet restaurant, chewing slowly, and tasting each bite before swallowing.

It’s not like you’ll instantly be more creative. Eating healthy is a long-term investment. But eventually it will pay off. Someday you’ll write something that will make you say “wow, where did that come from?”

So, go get inspired. Bon apetit!

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