A Review of Oliver Sacks’ Musicophila: Tales of Music and the Brain

Anthony Gottlieb in the NYT Book Review:

[Sacks’] new collection starts quite literally with a bolt from the blue, when a 42-year-old surgeon, Tony Cicoria, was struck by lightning in 1994. Cicoria’s heart apparently stopped, but he was resuscitated, and a few weeks later he was back at work. Everything seemed normal until this fan of rock music was suddenly seized by a craving for classical piano music. He bought recordings, acquired a piano and began to teach himself to play. Then his head began to be flooded with music that seemed to come, unstoppably, from nowhere. Within three months of his electrocution, Cicoria had little time for anything other than playing and composing.

A dozen years later, Cicoria is still an extreme musicophiliac but has no desire to investigate his own condition with the finer-tuned forms of brain scanning that are now available. He has come to see his condition as a “lucky strike.” The music in his head is, he says, “a blessing … not to be questioned.” (He was certainly lucky not to be killed. Standing in thunderstorms cannot yet be recommended as a new answer to the old question of how to get to Carnegie Hall.)

Thanks to the willingness of others to be scanned, though, we now know that musicians’ brains are different.