Monday, February 23, 2009

Regarding the Way We Listen to Music

Try this staement on for size. I heard someone say it last week.

"If you're just listening to your iPod, you're wasting time."

Yikes, right? At first I was a little startled, but after a few seconds it hit me that she was dead on and I hated so much to admit that there's truth in that sentence. Part of what gave me pause stemmed from my last review for Twisted Ear. There's an unusually high level of intellect put into TE reviews, I feel, so when I started writing for them in June, I changed my methodology for reviewing an album. Overarching statements are important. It's not just about the album itself but how that album fits into society as we know it. Andrew Bird's Noble Beast made me think about how little patience we have for the intricacies and delicacies of nuanced music. With Bird, it's not nearly enough to hit "play" and dive into a magazine. At least once, you have to focus completely on what's coming in through your headphones or you will miss everything that's important.

In the review, I talked about how these days, the average person does not have that luxury. Listening to music is not a sole pursuit anymore. I wrote about it because I see it in my own life. The only time I have guaranteed for music-listening is the time it takes in the morning to straighten my hair. In the interest of hearing what I have frequently called my second pulse, I way the trade offs. I can give my music half my attention or none at all.

Sad, right? I can tell you exactly when I got off track. Sam's Town came out in 2006 and the only time I had to listen to it was while I was writing a weekly completion grade poetry response for an English class. Normally I'd never have divided my attention like that, but Sam's Town (as much as I'm not sure if I should admit it) was the last album that had a true hold over me. Some or nothing. No choice.

It's not just me either. When was the last time you saw anyone just sitting there with their headphones? I can't even think of the last time I saw anyone using anything beyond laptop speakers or earbuds.

Maybe it's the iPod's fault? When the latest technology was the record player, you better believe that the lawn wasn't getting cut. Or what about those early portable cd players that skipped every time you breathed too deep? I had one of those. I didn't leave the edge of my bed for 45 minutes for fear of disturbing the play. Sure, the argument could be made that Walkmen didn't skip, but still portability seems a little like the devil sometimes. It's a blessing and a curse, or worse-- a compromise.

The Noble Beast review sparked some comments, mostly dismay. What does it say when you've listened to an album twenty times and still don't know the lyrics? Back in the day we knew every word, every beat, every artificially placed breath on the track. Maybe that's why music meant more. You had the time to read into it and project your life all over the album. To this day, I marvel at how my hate for John Mayer turned into respect because I was felt totally defined by Heavier Things. That was a long time ago.

So where does that leave us? The workload's got no end in sight. The "To Do" list keeps growing. But maybe, if we think about it hard enough, we'll try harder to carve out the time. Or maybe we'll just continue to multitask our way into numbness.

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