Saturday, April 01, 2017

Music to Live By

If you've going to do a little gardening and want a soundtrack, some tunes come to mind. Maybe "Green Green Grass of Home" by everyone from Elvis to Joan Baez to Tom Jones. Or "Dandelion Wine" by The Hollies. And of course "Octopus's Garden" by the Beatles. Or let's say you're cooking and want something to set the mood. There's "Green Onions" by Booker T and the MGs. Or perhaps "Coconut" from Harry Nilsson. Try "Storm in a Teacup" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Cleaning house? Go with "Come Clean" from Hilary Duff, "Car Wash" from Rose Royce, and top it off with "Washing Dishes" by Jack Johnson.

Pick almost any activity, and there's bound to be a couple of tracks that capture that spirit. Walking the dog? "Me and You and a Dog named Boo" by Lobo. Doing laps? "I Go Swimming" from Peter Gabriel. Driving? I'd go with "Life is a Highway" by Tom Cochrane. And let's not even talk about love and relationships, which account the vast majority of all songs in recorded history, not to mention anything Adele has ever sung.

But it turns out that music can not just represent stages of life, it can actually be responsible for saving a life. Yes, I know The Fray laid out all the steps in "How to Save A Life." But more practically New York Presbyterian has published a playlist of 40 songs that you can actually use to save one, especially if it belongs to a person who's heart has stopped beating. Not emotionally gone cold, mind you, but literally no longer going thump thump thump.

When people are taught to do the lifesaving technique of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, better known as CPR, they are taught to put one hand over the other on the distressed person's sternum, and pump deeply and frequently. Two metrics are important. The compressions are supposed to be about 2 inches deep, which is what it takes to force blood out of the heart and around the body. And the speed of those compressions is supposed be about a little less than twice a second, or about 100 times per minute.

Unfortunately most people have a poor sense of time and pace. But fortunately most people also have the ability to remember stupid stuff like pop songs. And so some genius came up with the idea that you could marry the need to pump at 100 beats a minute with songs that hummed along at that tempo. And voila, the dead could be revived by the Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" in more ways than one.

Of course, that seventies disco classic is not the only song that was recorded to that particular metronome setting. Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is another that meets the proper pumping threshold, making two tunes whose titles neatly fit with this intended off-label use. Not so a classic Queen title. While it too clocks in around the requisite 100 BPM marker, you hate to be banging on someone's chest while belting out "Another One Bites the Dust."

The New York Presbyterian playlist offers up more than two hours of life saving (if not necessarily life affirming) musical selections. That means that there's a little something for almost everyone across the musical spectrum. If you're into pop there are offerings from Missy Elliot, BeyoncĂ©, and Justin Timberlake. Are your tastes more edgy, more alt-rock?  You can be the hero while singing out tunes by Fall Out Boy, Modest Mouse, and the All-American Rejects. But sorry, no death metal listings. For should you scream out something like "Symptom of Terminal Illness" by Dillinger Escape Plan to keep pace, you'd be hammering some poor soul at 360 beats per minute. As one fan noted, "The person you save won't see a tunnel of light before they're brought back to life, they'll see the bottom of a mosh pit."

You just have to be careful which version of the tunes on the "WNYP" playlist you use. For while "Crazy" in on there, it's important to note it's the Gnarls Barkley version. That indeed clocks in around 112 beats per minute. But if you start singing the Patsy Kline chestnut, you would only be pounding on that chest at a rate of 71 BPM. In that case, that Queen tune might not be sending wrong message after all.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes the idea of doing CPR to "Walk Like an Egyptian." His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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