A recent report in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science states that music-derived chills, “sometimes known as aesthetic chills, thrills, shivers, frisson, and even skin orgasms … involve a seconds-long feeling of goose bumps, tingling, and shivers” in response to a piece of music, “usually on the scalp, the back of the neck, and the spine, but occasionally across most of the body.”

The report, written by researchers from the University of North Carolina, theorizes that the personality types most likely to receive skin orgasms are those possessing the trait of “openness to experience.” The researchers conducted further studies by giving these personality types a few glasses of peach Chardonnay and assuring them their song selection would be gentle.

“The scientific explanation for chills,” explains Brian Alexander at MSNBC.com, “is that the emotions evoked by beautiful or meaningful music stimulate the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls primal drives such as hunger, sex and rage and also involuntary responses like blushing and goosebumps. When the song soars, your body can’t help but shiver.” And shivering is always preferable to raging, unless you’re shivering because you’ve locked yourself out of your house in the dead of winter, in which case you’re going to be raging.

Handel’s Messiah has been known to give churchgoers multiple skin orgasms at Christmas Eve services (why else do you think the pews are so packed?), and when I asked Johnny Mathis for his autograph in an airport bar five years ago, I made sure to let him know that “your Merry Christmas album never fails to give me skin orgasms.” Boy, you should’ve seen the look on his face. When he said, “Please don’t touch me,” I knew it was only because he’d already been touched by my words.

Naturally, there are some personality types that don’t care for music or skin orgasms. According to USA Today, Dr. Tom Coburn, the junior U.S. senator from Oklahoma, has issued a report he calls “Wastebook 2010,” in which he argues that federal funding to the tune of $615,000 to digitize Grateful Dead concert tickets and T-shirts for the band’s archive at UC Santa Cruz is — get this! — wasteful. So much for my plan to ask Congress for $1 million to properly archive Kanye West’s first one million schizophrenic tweets.

Thanks to generous helpings of LSD, I bet the Dead’s fans had plenty of intense skin orgasms at thir concerts over the course of 30 years. But because of rising ticket prices over the past 15 years, more and more concertgoers have decided to stay home and give themselves skin orgasms for free rather than pay their favorite artists to do it for them.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that “North American concert ticket prices rose from an average $26 in 1996 to a peak of $67 in 2008, an increase four times faster than inflation,” while Billboard says concert attendance was down almost 25 percent in 2010. ZZ Top has pledged to drop their 2011 prices below this year’s average of $55, but are fans still willing to let the Texas trio make love to their ears? Honestly, would it kill these guys to plug in the Norelco once in a while? And who told them a throw rug is an acceptable substitute for a shirt? Put forth a real romantic effort, ZZ, and maybe I’ll let you back in my music bed.

One band that still gives me skin orgasms is Wheat, whose 2003 album Per Second, Per Second, Per Second … Every Second was voted the best album of the past decade a year ago today by a majority of me. Earlier this month Brendan Harney, the band’s drummer and cofounder, e-mailed me about their new holiday single, a rendition of Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” backed by an original titled “It’s Snowing, I Love You.” Yes, at this late date the A-side should probably be retitled “(Did You) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but that’s my fault, not Wheat’s. I asked Harney if he would give me $1 million to post their songs before Christmas, but apparently he’s just as much of an anti-pork zealot as Senator Coburn.

And although Wheat may not be ready at this point in our artist-fan relationship to hear about my complete skin-orgasm history, I do think honesty is an important quality to have during the holidays. Otherwise, how would Johnny Mathis be able to separate me from all the other fans he’s met over the years?

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
It’s Snowing, I Love You

About the Author

Robert Cass

Robert Cass lives in Chicago. For Popdose he's written under the Sugar Water, Bootleg City, and Box Office Flashback banners and collaborated on the series 'Face Time with Jeff Giles and Mike Heyliger.

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