In your introduction, you imply that music lovers will enjoy music even more once they understand what's happening on a biological level.

I think that's sort of the bias of the scientist.... Some people like to know how things work. But I think people who love music are a little bit afraid of looking under the hood.

When you were playing, did you think about music that way as well?

It was more that when I was a musician or in the studio, I was fascinated by what separated some people's abilities from others. I marveled at the fact that Jerry Garcia, who had picked up a pedal steel guitar for the very first time in his life, six hours later played the solo on "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. That's one of the most difficult instruments in the world to play, and this guy had a real, honed intuition for it, and where did that come from? Was he born with it? Did he get particularly good acid that day?

Your writing about music is so compelling; do you listen to music while you write?

I can't listen to music while I write, because I find each experience totally consuming. In general, I do listen to a lot of music, but never in the background. If the music is on, I'm 100% in it.

There's a strong autobiographical undercurrent in the book—it's not about you, but you make the science very personal.

I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have been able to talk about music with some of my real heroes. Those were really rare and special opportunities, to sit down with Paul Simon or with Stevie Wonder for an afternoon, or sit on Richard Carpenter's floor, where he does all his listening in his music room, and listen to his records for an afternoon and talk about them: "Oh, here's where the violins come in" and what's going on there and how did that happen that way and "Oh, did you notice this..." I felt that those conversations were so exceptional for me that I wanted to share some of them in the book.

You say you've learned about science writing from people like Oliver Sacks and Robert Sapolsky. Well, you didn't go live among chimpanzees for six months, although recording studios are fascinating in their own right.

I remember when Joe Strummer from the Clash got on a motorcycle and drove into the reception room of the studio and burned rubber on the carpet and crashed into the antique Wurlitzer. Working with punk bands is kind of like living with chimpanzees.