Johnny Cash once said, “How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.”
That must be what Mr. B., the pseudonym for a 59-year-old subject of scientific study, felt because he suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder for 46 years.
The journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience has chronicled his remarkable story, and it’s one that belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Doctors said that Mr. B. was overpowered by irrational fears that made his life miserable.
Mr. B. sought help at a clinic in the Netherlands. The doctors there treated him with deep brain stimulation, which involves the implantation of a device into a part of the brain and using it to deliver electrical impulses.
The part of Mr. B’s brain targeted by the surgeons was the nucleus accumbens, which is located at the base of the forebrain. This area has a lot to do with fear and addiction, but it also has a lot to do with pleasure.
Within six weeks after the surgery, Mr. B wasn’t afraid anymore. He was not obsessed with anything, nor did he base his decisions on panic.
However, about six months after his deep brain stimulation, Mr. B. unintentionally heard Johnny Cash sing “Ring of Fire” on the radio. He said it moved him so deeply that he began to seek out other Cash music and learn everything he could about it.
Over time, Mr. B. learned that he preferred Cash’s work in the ’70s and ’80s to his earlier recordings, apparently because Cash’s life experience had deepened both his voice and his appeal and given him even more gravitas.
In addition to “Ring of Fire,” Mr. B’s favorite Johnny Cash recordings are “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
The physicians in charge of Mr. B’s aftercare noted with interest that he stopped listening to his previous favorite music, which consisted mostly of Beatles and Rolling Stones records and some Dutch-language music.
He listened only to Johnny Cash songs, sometimes walking back and forth in his room and imagining himself the hero in a movie.
The lay person might think Mr. B. just traded one set of obsessions for a new one, but the doctors say his behavior doesn’t fit the definition of obsessive behavior.
In part, this is because he doesn’t feel anxiety when he is prevented from listening to Cash. Also, when the stimulators implanted in his brain run down, he reverts to listening to his old favorites without any apparent increase in anxiety.
Scientists concluded, “It could be suggested that the image he creates when listening to songs of Johnny Cash seems to match his ‘new’ confident self. Like Mr. B. states: ‘it seems as if Johnny Cash goes together with DBS (deep brain stimulation)’.”
Of course, longtime fans of The Man in Black would say Johnny Cash has been stimulating their brains for decades.
Now they have scientific proof.