What the people need, is a way to make ’em smile
It ain’t so hard to do if you know how
Gotta get a message, get it on through
Oh, now momma don’t you ask me why
Whoa, oh, listen to the music!Doobie Brothers – “Listen to the Music”
Some years ago, I was married to a woman who was later diagnosed as a psychopath. My impression of a psychopath back then was Hannibal Lecter, in chains and a face mask. That view was both ignorant and naïve. There are psychopaths all around us, up to 4% of the population. Most are high functioning and do not kill. They look like charming and well adjusted people, but they destroy lives in other ways. They are political leaders, judges, police and military officers, corporate executives, religious leaders and media personalities. A psychopath could even be a stay-at-home mother, as I discovered through much pain and suffering.
I won’t write about her in detail here. That is for another time and another article. This short article is about a quirk I discovered in her, and possibly other psychopaths, with respect to music.
Malignant personality types, such as narcissists and psychopaths, use love bombing and criticism to control their victims. Exclusively love bombing at first to gain their trust and hook them, then slowly segueing to criticism once they have them effectively controlled. My psychopath wife was no exception. Part of her love bombing consisted of trying to bond with me over my love of music. She portrayed herself as an accomplished musician, both keyboards and violin (which she called the fiddle). I only ever saw a rudimentary grasp of the keyboards and no evidence at all of the violin, although she possessed several violins that I never saw her play. She had a 500-pound upright piano that she would have others drag around for her from residence to residence, only plinking on it occasionally. A giant prop to make her appear musical and normal.
The first cracks of criticism appeared after we were married when I would mention certain songs I liked, because of their instrumental qualities. She would, in turn, criticize me for liking a song that had questionable lyrics. For example, when I mention that I liked the song Talk, Talk, she criticized me for liking a song that had lyrics about cheating. At that time, I didn’t even know the lyrics. I just really liked the keyboards and beat. On another occasion, she remarked that I liked the song Poker Face, because I was an anti-social person who walled himself off from others with a poker face. That thought had never once occurred to me, as I was a fairly social person, albeit a bit reserved. I just wrote off this criticism as misunderstandings, and her increasing attacks about other things soon eclipsed the musical ones altogether. I did not revisit this dynamic until things had calmed down considerably years after she abandoned me and our child.
I spent considerable time after her disappearance trying to deconstruct the freight train that had run over me, discovering through two separate diagnoses what she was – a psychopath. I learned that part of being a psychopath is the inability to experience feelings like normal people. No love, shame, guilt or even fear. That is what makes them, and her, such effective liars, manipulators and deceivers. One day when her past critical words were echoing in my mind yet again, the musical criticism resurfaced. I had a sudden epiphany. Music was another “feeling” she could not experience. She could only understand it as words and noise, so she concentrated on the words to frame her criticisms. That is how she so massively missed the mark in her accusations against me. She was utterly incapable of understanding the musical part of the equation, so she hammered me on the lyrics.
Looking back on every musical discussion or argument we ever had, she associated and judged every song solely by its lyrics. She did not seem to fathom that sometimes I just liked the guitar, or the bass, or the keyboards, or even the drums … and often paid no attention to the words.
Ironically, many of the lyrics for which she criticized and judged me applied perfectly to her. This is another tactic of psychopaths and their narcissist brethren, called projection. Take the following lyrics from Talk, Talk, for example:
When every choice that I make is yours
Keep telling me what’s wrong and what’s right
Don’t you ever stop to think about me?
I’m not that blind to see you’ve been cheating on me
This describes a psychopath or narcissist perfectly. Yes, she was also a prolific serial cheater, which I did not discover until after she left.
This caused me to look back over her supposed musical genius. It was also a façade. She was able to steal and copy bits and pieces, but never create anything on her own. She possessed a level of mechanical competence and rote repetition, but no gift, genius or even love of music. She simply mimicked notes and lyrics without understanding music, the way a parrot mimics human words without understanding speech. The passion that would drive the pursuit, and later excellence, was missing. Just like her passion for anything else except primitive greed and a desire to dominate.
I tried to imagine what it was like. No goose bumps or tears from a moving piece or music. No relived memories from past good times or youth when hearing a song again. Nothing for her, but noise and words. I almost felt sorry for her, but then I remember the pain and destruction she caused. Feeling sorry for her passed very quickly.