On music

So I’ve been trying to come up with something to write for the past two weeks (at least), and it finally came to me. Music. Glorious, beautiful, mood-altering, life-changing music. I’ve always had a thing for it, ever since I was young. My first education came with MTV, the British one, during its good years (1994-2000)…you know…when it actually broadcast music and not shows on pregnant teens and people who wanted to be ‘made.’  Back then it was music all day long, UK top 20, US top 20, shows on R&B, Rock, Metal, etc. The only non-music shows were Daria and Beavis & Butthead.

The first CD I ever bought was ‘Ignition’ by Offspring. It was right after they had released ‘Smash’ but a friend of mine already had it on tape, so I thought I should listen to more of their stuff since I liked them so much. The second was ‘Garbage’ by Garbage (with tracks like ‘I’m only happy when it rains,’ ‘Queer,’ and ‘Stupid Girl’). From there my music tastes took a weird turn and I liked listening to everything from Nirvana to Mariah Carey and the Backstreet Boys (yeah, not too proud of that, but I was 15 so don’t judge). But the truth is I’ve never been a fan of only one particular genre, and I will listen to anything that melodically and lyrically appeals to my ears. I did, of course, go through different phases, such as the US alternative with Sparta, Thrice, Brand New (whose sound I still love), the emo/rock (before emo was popular) such as Dashboard Confessional (during his, almost exclusively, acoustic years), and the house/dance phase of the 2000s during which time I bought endless ATB and Hed Kandi CDs.

I think what is even more interesting though is the fact that throughout this personal musical growth and evolution I was also surrounded by people who enjoyed discovering new music as much as I was, and so I was constantly bombarded with new sounds. The first ‘strong’ persuasion attempt was made by a good friend who suggested Radiohead. I remember it like it was yesterday…it must have been 2000…2001(?) and we were walking into the movie theater when he took out his iPod and told me “you have to listen to this song” (it was, of course, ‘Creep,’ the acoustic version). I seriously remember laughing the first time I heard it, thinking, what the hell is wrong with this guy and his voice, the whole thing is weird. But my friend didn’t stop there and he began making me mix CDs of Radiohead (I think by the end they probably included their entire discography). He started out with the classics, the more easy-going songs like ‘High and Dry,’ ‘Green Plastic Trees,’ ‘Karma Police,’ and then it moved on to the more ‘Paranoid Android’ (which I hated the first time I heard it and thought the video was just absurd). Needless to say they grew on me really quickly and I am now a huge fan and like everything they’ve ever released.

Music for me has been truly defining, ever since I consciously started selecting songs and sounds that evoked something special and -for lack of a better word- ‘spoke’ to me. I am now 28 years old and I like to listen to everything from rock to jazz, from pop to industrial rock, and I’m really proud of that. Of course, there are some genres that I simply despise, such as country, death metal (or whatever they call it), and reggae, probably because songs pertaining to these genres all sound the same (to me).

But it means even more than that. It is truly horrifying that a song can move you to such an extent that it will change your mood, make you cry, laugh, jump up and down, or simply mellow you out until you’re lying there in the dark with your eyes closed using only one of your five senses. They say that smell is the sense most closely associated with memory, and it’s true, it can instantly take you back to a single moment in time, in a blink of an eye, but sound…sound allows you travel anywhere and stay there for as long as you keep pressing the ‘play’ button. The most beautiful thing for me is all the different elements that can make a song significant, and can attract your emotional or psychological attention the first time you hear it -the lyrics, the bass line, the slow drum beat that instantly synchronizes with the rhythm of your state of being.

Dear God, I can sit here and write about this all night…but don’t worry, I won’t. There are two more points that I want to make, one of them being the process of listening to a new song and the second, the fact that the same songs can sound very differently at different points in your life.  

When I began listening to music it was MTV, the radio, and the CDs that I owned. This slowly evolved and by 2001 I was downloading music off Napster with my stupid dial-up connection which only allowed for a maximum of 5kb/s download speed. Tell that to a 15-year-old now and they’ll be looking at you with a blank stare. Well, actually, they will first ask who Napster is, then they will probably laugh and think of how old you are. But even then (amongst the illegal downloading), during my intense CD-buying years, the process consisted of a long and magnificent ritual: I bought the CD, went back home, unwrapped it, placed it in my CD player, opened the thick sleeve, which more often than not included lyrics -I hated it when they didn’t-, and began the journey of listening to a complete work of art, from beginning to end. The other end of the spectrum being that now I have more than 40GB of music and I haven’t even listened to some of the albums. Music is of course more readily available, source-wise, and significantly cheaper to obtain, thereby making us more greedy and less eager.

So how has the process changed? Behold the ‘shuffle’ button. I recently read a really good article about that, where they explained how the iPod and their ‘shuffle’ has not only revolutionized music but also how we listen to it. In a way the concept of an album (that is, of a story consisting of several chapters), has almost ceased to exist, in that artists, especially new ones, will even consider releasing one or two songs at a time. Of course this is all very relative, and I personally don’t know anyone who presses this button all that often. I, myself, began using it only a few years ago, but I have grown to love this element of surprise, which is, nevertheless, limited to the music you have in your mp3 player, so how surprised can you get really?

Before I move on to the second and final point, I have a minor one that I would like to raise, and that is that for me the best way to truly experience and new song or album and enjoy it to its fullest is in the car (with the windows shut, and provided you have a good sound system), or with my earphones. Speakers are nice, but the extraneous noise inhibits and degrades the process.

So, on to my final point! These past few years I have noticed that I may listen to a song or an artist now, dislike them completely, and then accidentally go back to them a few months (or years) later and be amazed. This has happened with Nine Inch Nails, Franz Ferdinand, Florence and the Machine, the Editors, She Wants Revenge, and quite a few others that I cannot recall at this moment. If you think about it it’s truly bizarre, to say the least. It’s the same song, the same sound, but your mood and state of mind are capable of warping and distorting the notes enough to make them seem appealing and moving when they once appeared indifferent and even unpleasant.

I feel as if I haven’t done this subject any justice whatsoever, having barely scraped the surface, but I don’t want to make this post humongous, and I would like to revisit it at some point in the future. I will wrap up with the oh-so-appropriate lyrics from a fantastic song by Porcupine Tree called ‘The Sound of Muzak’ and promise to come back to this eventually.

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