What I Listen To When I Listen To Music

There’s nothing like severe flooding to bring to mind a dozen #firstworldproblem quips.  They typed themselves in my head as I surveyed the foot of water in the basement this morning, at six a.m.

But there’s nothing to be upset about.  It has been a week of serious loss for this country, which makes it impossible to bemoan the loss of replaceable things.  That said, while pouring my tea it struck me.  My basket of vinyl!  Always resting on the floor!  At the risk of electrical shock, I immediately ran downstairs to save it.  The handle of the basket broke, as I stupidly tried to lift it from the water.   (Why is it so heavy?  I asked myself, before realizing it is a huge basket of wet vinyl).  I began jogging handfuls of sopping albums upstairs at a time.  Blankets thrown on the floor, I immediately started to towel-dry what seemed worth saving.

Worth saving” came down to what albums I couldn’t fathom throwing away.  Albums whose permanently damaged covers would be worth the potential mildew, to keep.  Sinatra.  Ella.  Brahms.  Bowie.  My exaggerated heroics brought something else to mind.  A few weeks ago, over Scottish eggs and spaetzle, my friend M. Forker asked me what I’ve been listening to lately.  The question took me so much by surprise that I mumbled and fumbled for answers that just didn’t come to me.  I’ve been haunted by the question ever since.  And today, I will finally endeavor to answer it.

photo 1I think in this day and age, music falls under the category of top ten things people are secretly self-conscious about.  It’s an intimate detail, what you listen to.  It’s akin to dental work, in that there’s an underlying fear that what you listen to may be called odious, lame, embarrassing, or tooth decay.  It’s a topic of conversation that seems to categorize you instantly.  And the moment you’re disagreeable about it, you’re the worst, you’re Hitler.

Of course, some of us are cool enough to not worry about what other people think, about our tastes, our senses of things.  That is the secret, really.  You must own what you love and listen to with a defiant toss of your head, aggressively ignoring all naysayers.  But obviously, I have never been of this supreme-self-confidence camp.  I’m still tormented by the memory of me in 7th grade, after the teacher asked us what radio stations we listened to, when I said “Lite FM.”

In high school I was redeemed.  One of the first friends I made there was Maggie Monahan.  She was straight edge and emo, with a kind heart.  She made me two mix tapes full of everything from Juliana Theory to the Cure.  And while I’ve kept the British post-punk rock, and dropped the angst-ridden emo, the point is that she saved me from listening to Savage Garden and Evanescence in high school.  She opened up the portal to other worlds of music.  Maggie didn’t last longer than three weeks at my high school.  But she left me with an indelible discernment, that regardless of what was mainstream, someone somewhere was making better music than the Smashing Pumpkins.

College was all about Rufus Wainwright, Beck, Franz Ferdinand, Feist,Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sufjan Stevens.  Sufjan especially, because his music sounds like his face:

images-1My friend Erin and I had a ritual whenever we saw each and every one of these favorite musicians.  We’d see them, geek out, and then eat Ann Sathers the next morning.  In retrospect, while those memories are some of the brightest highlights of my life, these days I mostly think about how much I miss eating cinnamon rolls with my good friend, while sleepily talking about our next concert.

These days.  These days, I can’t tell the difference between the LumineersMumford and Sons or The Head and The Heart.  Of Monsters and Men.  The Civil Wars.  I know they exist, I just fail to keep up with them.  When I do listen to music, it’s always something I already own.  And when I pick a record, it plays for a week before I decide to switch it.

I discover what I really listen to when I paint.  It’s not to be pretentious.  Really, it’s me by myself, with no one to judge me but an expecting canvas.  This is when Sinatra, the Boswell Sisters, or old filipino wonders like Pilita Corrales come out, when I’m feeling romantic.  Stevie Wonder holds the record for the most plays (one month) in a given mood.  And listening to Weezer always makes me believe that I’m going to be young forever, which warrants them being played forever, all the time.

In my music collection, there are adaptable and ever-changing truths.  Sometimes the Beatles sum up everything about love for me, but I need to hear it from a girlfriend, like Emiliana Torrini.  I own an exorbitant amount of The Innocence Mission that I never listen to, and yet I’ve somehow managed to listen to “Crazy In Love” a grand total of 256 times since I downloaded it.

When I make it a point to look at my iPod, I have questions.  Whatever happened to The Postal Service?  When did I download a Jill Scott album?  Oh, Grizzly Bear, how could I forget about you?  And for all the French I know, is Edith Piaf the only French artist I listen to, besides the Julie Delpy song from Before Sunset?

Anyway, to scour the totality of my taste in music would leave us all exhausted.  Really, I just wanted to write a blog post about music, and dedicate it to my good friend M. Forker, who is the only person I will talk music with, because it’s only fun with her.  I suppose I ultimately didn’t answer your question, did I?   Soul.  We’ll go with soul.  Maybe a little 20/20 Experience.  Or maybe I still like O’Town.

For the rest of you, I will have a spring-cleaned basement in a few weeks, I expect.  Let’s make plans for some tea and dancing, some laughing and singing.

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