The older I get, the less I listen to music. Which would be fine, except that my brain has degraded to the point where I’m having trouble understanding why anyone listens to music.
My friends Eric and Jill are on a group text with Liz and me, and every week Eric will send us some song and Jill and Liz will write back immediately “That song is amazing!” Because they Listen to Music Like Normal People.
But I don’t get it. Do I just sort of stand there and listen to that song for three and a half minutes? It’s like somebody running up to me, breathless, handing me a bucket and being like “Dude, you gotta hold this bucket, it’s amazing” and for the next four minutes I have to just hold the bucket and pretend that I’m enjoying it. When to me it’s just another bucket and I’m not really all that into holding buckets.
It reminds me of when people love coffee and they can discern when coffee is good or coffee is bad. Those people sip coffee and they’re like “Now this is good coffee!” I would never do that, because I never know. I would only say coffee is good coffee if I am one thousand percent sure that the coffee in that café is objectively good. Because what if that place is known for having terrible coffee? And I’m there going “Mmmm! This is great tasting coffee!” and in mid-sentence the barista grabs it back from me because she had accidentally handed me some kind of beet smoothie? I’m not going out on a limb with coffee.
I was introduced to coffee in college. I needed to stay awake, and it seemed like a good way to do that – caffeine. But I didn’t want to get it from Starbucks, because when you’re in college spending $4 on a coffee is like buying a new Toyota. More to the point, I knew I would be in some hipster coffee place and they would ask me how I took my coffee and I wouldn’t know and they would discover there was a coffee faker in the building and some hipster behind the counter would grab his didgeridoo to sound the alarm and all the hipsters would chase me out with their hemp scarves and pilates mats.
So I decided to do coffee in the privacy of my room in college. I bought the cheapest Mr. Coffee I could find, a little hot plate thing with a glass pot. And I bought the cheapest ground coffee Kroger had and I filled up a coffee filter to the brim – which I now know is way too much coffee – and I just let ‘er rip.
I didn’t keep milk or sugar (because when would I ever need milk or sugar? I was a college student, I barely kept toilet paper) so I just drank my coffee black and boiling and it was the color of a black hole.
It tasted awful. But who cared? Cough medicine was terrible too. Coffee wasn’t something to be enjoyed. But boy was I jealous of those folks that went to the coffee places and ooh’ed over their coffee and how delicious it was. They seemed so much more grown up than me. They still do.
In that same vein, I am jealous of people who listen to music. I’m jealous when Eric and Jill and Lizzie share music. In that moment they seem like more complete human beings. I feel like I am missing a lobe of my brain.
So I ask them: Why are you listening to music?
Because me, I’m listening to podcasts or audiobooks or listening to this guy on the Bible app reading the Bible (and I seriously think they got God Himself to read it because this guy’s voice sounds like it’s been echoing around a valley for the last several thousand years). Anytime I’m walking or driving, basically any time I’m not able to write on my laptop, I’m listening to podcasts or audiobooks.
If I’m at home I prefer silence. I like silence in the morning and silence in the evening. I need silence when I’m working. I love silence.
So the answer they give me to the question “Why are you listening to music?” is this:
Well, first, they ask if I seriously just asked why are you listening to music?
But after that:
They tell me it puts them in a certain mood. Or heightens their mood. Some just love music but more frequently and articulately I heard that word – mood. That sounds right. I listened to music when I was younger, and I recall that.
It also reminded me that there is an occasion these days when I choose to listen to music.
The way I use music now – much in the way I used to use coffee – is as a tool. I use it as an adrenaline shot when I’m writing.
Here’s how it works for me:
When I’m trying to write a certain kind of scene, an exciting scene or an emotional scene or whatever, I find a song that fits that mood. I listen to that song and the writing flies out – it’s like I’m trying to keep up with it. It’s the soundtrack to the movie in my head. It’s powerful. The writing flows, which, when you’re stuck, is an amazing feeling.
Music, like scent, seems to bypass all cognition and hit you straight in your primordial brain. You don’t know exactly why you’re feeling something, you’re just feeling it. And the best writing comes from feeling something.
So I feel like I should get more music in my life. Lizzie loves it. My kids love it. Normal people love it. I would love to be that kind of normal.
Besides, music gives me great memories whether that music is wonderful or awful.
Which brings me to my Top Five Low-Lights in Music….
1. Wang Chung.
I’ll bet Wang Chung had another song besides the have fun tonight song, I just can’t name it. I’ll say this, if you’re going to have one hit, make it the one where you just shout your name over and over.
2. Edie Brickell.
I bet Edie Brickell is great. I bet she’s also thinking if I could just hear more of her songs I would really like her. But instead it’s that one song about the fact that she knows what she knows if I know what she means and what am I supposed to do with that?
3. Led Zeppelin When They Talking Between Songs in Live Shows.
Zeppelin, for me, is one of the great bands of all time. Pure music genius. Love all their stuff. But every once in a while I catch a live version of a song and hear them talking to the masses and I wonder how music genius can vary so far from what appears to be any kind of human intelligence.
4. Eddie Murphy.
Eddie Murphy had a hit song. That’s glorious.
5. Live Jazz.
Look, I enjoy jazz. It’s on all the time in my house at dinner time and when we cook. But sitting there and listening to live jazz feels attending a live performance of whale noise – I don’t get it and the whole time I’m wondering if there is any natural stopping point to it.
Okay. See you later.