Arj Barker says that beauty and sadness often go hand in hand. When the two coincide, it can leave you feeling like the universe is trying to tell you something important.
The year 1997 was huge for the US comedian. He was based in the UK and played his first Edinburgh Comedy Festival. He nailed it. He was crowned Best Newcomer and things were on an upward trajectory.
He also found himself struck by love. He befriended a woman, they hung out and he believed she was the one. But the feelings weren’t mutual.
"She broke my heart right in the middle of the festival," he says.
He remembers listening to Radiohead’s 'Paranoid Android' on the way home feeling completely dejected, devastated and like a major failure.
Looking back on it now, Arj still has a vivid sense of the intensity of those few weeks at the Edinburgh Festival and the highs and deep emotional lows he went through.
Radiohead's OK Computer opened the door to a lifelong appreciation of the band’s music.
"It seems like music that you could only dream," he says. "There’s something so ethereal about it. It seems like it’s written from the subconscious instead of somebody saying 'I'm gonna write a song'."
That subconscious is a realm that Arj is more than just a little curious about.
On and off, he’s spent a good part of the past ten years experimenting with meditation. He says music gives a little taste of the higher states that so many who meditate talk about.
So many of us live in the future, or what happened last night, or where we are going to get lunch. Music helps change that.
"Great music and intense experiences put you right in the moment, I think maybe that’s part of their value," Arj says.
Seeking those higher states and clearer perspectives in life, Arj surmises, can come through spiritual pursuits. But also, it can come through hearing certain songs.
"Music can fill you with some deeper joy that’s almost like… magical."
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Arj Barker on Don't Look Back.