I heard that John Mayer actually sees music as colors—does that just mean he gets stoned a lot?
No, he has an unusual neurological condition called synaesthesia. People with it overlay sensory perceptions in an unusual fashion: they might perceive the letter Q as orange, or the number 5 as minty. This isn’t just a flight of fancy: for synaesthetes, these perceptions are fundamental and unchanging, the way you might unfailingly describe the number 8 as “curvy.” Mayer’s variety of synaesthesia means that when he hears music, he associates colors with it. (Although synaesthesia is relatively rare—by some estimates, just 1 in 25,000 people have it—other musicians who may have had the condition in some degree include composer Franz Liszt and guitarist Jimi Hendrix.)
So how does Mayer hear some of his own songs? I called him to ask. “No Such Thing”: “Red over white.” “Your Body Is a Wonderland”? “White, or clear. Diamond.” “83”: “Yellow and red and avocado.” Is the music he loves usually in one part of the color spectrum? “I go for rainbow stuff,” Mayer told me. “Dave Matthews’ Under the Table and Dreaming was like a kid breaking into a paint store. Rock music is brown and gray. I’m not a rocker. Melody is color.”
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)