Evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists, neurologists and various other ologist-types have been trying to figure out the meaning of music in terms of human utility for some time:
- Darwin proposed that traits found attractive in courtship would enable their owners to get more genes into the next generation. The upshot would be the emergence of adornments that had no immediately obvious survival value in themselves, like the peacock’s tail or the troubadour’s ballads.
Darwin’s ideas about music have been extended by Dr. Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Miller notes their potency in pointing to the opportunities open to popular musicians for transmitting their genes to the next generation. The rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, for instance, had “sexual liaisons with hundreds of groupies, maintained parallel long-term relationships with at least two women, and fathered at least three children in the United States, Germany, and Sweden. Under ancestral conditions before birth control, he would have fathered many more,” Dr. Miller writes.
Why on earth would nubile young women choose a rock star as a possible father of their children instead of more literary and reflective professionals such as, say, journalists? Dr. Miller sees music as an excellent indicator of fitness in the Darwinian struggle for survival. Since music draws on so many of the brain’s faculties, it vouches for the health of the organ as a whole. And since music in ancient cultures seems often to have been linked with dancing, a good fitness indicator for the rest of the body, anyone who could sing and dance well was advertising the general excellence of their mental and physical genes to a potential mate.
“Music evolved and continues to function as a courtship display, mostly broadcast by young males to attract females,” Dr. Miller writes in “The Origins of Music,” a collection of essays by him and others. [NY Times]
So Hendrix did it for the nookie – interesting theory. I think in the case of a genius like Hendrix, the nookie was a perk rather than a prime motivator. I certainly noticed my access to prime booty went up when I started performing in rock bands in high school (but it went up even more when I had notable success in baseball), nothing unusual there.
Either way, Jimi, dead over 30 years, is much in the news these days. He was Number 1 in the recent Rolling Stone greatest guitarists poll (despite the protestations of the mysterious Sockhead – see comment #171, Jimi himself dropped by for comment #201), he is featured in the upcoming PBS series The Blues (debuting September 27), and a CD anthology in conjunction with the series (man that “Red House” smokes), and The Jimi Hendrix Experience Live At Berkeley 2nd Show, from May 30, 1970 just came out yesterday, another impresssive live run through the repertoire with surprisingly fine sound quality if occasionally variable backing from Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox.
The Hendrix vaults are seemingly endless – one wonders how he had time to have “sexual liaisons with hundreds of groupies” and maintain “parallel long-term relationships with at least two women.” But, hey, that’s why he’s Number 1.