The Sound of Being Human

‘The Sound of Being Human’ by Jude Rogers (Review)

Today’s review is about The Sound of Being Human by music journalist Jude Rogers, published by White Rabbit Books in April 2022. It is an emotional and reflective exploration of the powers of music, and how it may help to shape a life.

Music interacts with the cores of our psychological and emotional responses, whether providing our moments with its own, unique soundtrack, or simply filling in the gaps to help us understand ourselves. Featuring various moments from Jude’s life and career, the songs that have meant the most to her with fascinating input from various experts, The Sound of Being Human is a deep exploration of music at all levels.

We start in 1984…

Starting in 1984, we meet a five-year-old Jude, saying goodbye to her father before he heads to the hospital for an operation. What was meant to be an absence from home for five days was made permanent when Jude’s father passed away only two days later, at the premature age of 33. A lot of the book is linked to this devastating experience of Jude losing her dad (and best friend) so young, and mourning all of the songs and music charts they could have shared together. These songs – including ‘Prince Charming’ by Adam and the Ants, ‘Buffalo Stance’ by Neneh Cherry and ‘Drive’ by R.E.M. – helped Jude form new musical memories, but it is these songs she would have loved to have shared with her dad, too.

The science

Yet, though we understand how music can make us feel, we don’t fully know why it has this power. This is where the experts come in. Throughout the book, we hear from a wide range of experts, covering the disciplines of neuroscience, psychology, anthropology and sociology. So you finish the book with lots of new knowledge. For example, why is it that babies respond more positively to music than to speech, and why does music activate the same parts of the brain as memory and – rather surprisingly – orgasms? If anything, this makes it even an even more satisfying read for the music lover, giving our favourite songs their proper dues in terms of their power and impact on humanity.

The reading experience of The Sound of Being Human

In terms of the writing, I particularly loved the way in which Jude introduces some of the artists. In the case of Adam Ant, she pictures him standing at the front door, in his full new-romantics regalia, waiting to be let into her world. And that is what we all do when we listen to a new singer/band – well that’s if we like what we hear. Secondly, I really enjoyed how the book would go from Jude listening to an artist for the first time, often in Jude’s pre-adult life, to eventually being able to interview them in her journalism career. For example, the reader meets Jude as she obsesses over R.E.M. as a teenager, and next, here she is getting super nervous about interviewing Michael Stipe years later amidst the band’s split.

The narrative trajectory is increasingly more satisfying as Jude takes her favourite songs from her youth and builds new experiences in adulthood. Whether that may be in a crowded venue or sitting in an empty flat, you are transported to different locations and settings for her various memories. Because sometimes, that is where our brain goes when we listen to a familiar song – we are taken to a particular time, place, event and primary emotion. No matter how many years have passed, that memory will feel like it happened yesterday. As a reader, this made my own memories come flooding back. Things I hadn’t thought about in years.

To conclude…

The Sound of Being Human is an emotional and life-affirming read. Your heart wrenches with Jude in moments of sinking sadness, and you too will feel the euphoria that music brought – and still brings – her. The book is an essential read for music fans, as the emotions which Jude feels around music will ring true for a lot of people – even if the playlist may vary. I finished reading The Sound of Being Human knowing that my thoughts around my favourite music were unique yet universal – and I went away with a deeper understanding of its power. Rather than it be some kind of mystery, our relationship with music seeps deep into our biology.

Thanks for reading!

To read about some more music books I love, click here. 

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