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February 9, 2011

Not too late to listen (Part 2)

Comes a time a man just has to work with what the good Lord hath provided, and the well-worn handle of a very broad brush feels comfortable in my hand. And so we continue.

Previously, I was attempting to establish a way to discuss why we listen to music. What compels us to listen? What are the mechanisms that make folks so impassioned over recorded sound?

I floated a couple of obvious ideas revolving around how our individual playlists allow us some self-determination in the experience of our day to day, in addition to group identification. Fair enough. In trying to crack the code, I’ve lately started to think of capital-M-Music not as a thing we just listen to, but as a place where we store parts of ourselves, individually and collectively, and I think there’s something to it.

In the house I grew up in, in the kitchens of friends and family and basically every home I’ve ever been in, there’s a place for things that don’t have a place. Conversations like the following occur daily in homes around the world:

“Where the scissors at?”

“Look in the drawer.”

“We got any rubber bands?”

“Look in the drawer.”

Staples. Matches. Candles. Corkscrews. Things that are of “hard, simple, undeniable use” (Listen to: Smog — “To be of use”) are found in the drawer.

I’m beginning to think of music as the place we put parts of ourselves that can’t be stored anywhere else. Music, then, is seen as memory’s Rolodex, or a storage locker for our emotions both individual and cultural.

We keep pictures in boxes and on the walls to remind us of moments and events, who we were and how we got here. They provide points of reference in our timelines. I can look at a picture of myself and comment on the context: “Here’s me with long hair trying to hotwire a Bobcat. Here’s me in the Panama Canal. There were howler monkeys everywhere …”

But what did the experience feel like, and can I feel that way now, please?

Listen to the records — it’s still in there.

Where did I put the feeling of Sunday morning, cleaning day, with sunlight in the dining room, “Star Trek” on the tiny black-and-white television in the kitchen, and the smell of laundry being folded? Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and CSNY’s So Far.

Where did I put the feeling of driving around with my friends the summer after junior year, with most of the privileges of adulthood and none of the responsibility? Check under the file marked “Outkast’s first joint, Southernplayalistic …

Remember getting dumped in high school? Which time? Oh, the Allman Brothers’ “Sweet Melissa” time? Yeah, I remember that one. That was kid stuff.

Where did I put the feeling of joyful anonymity experienced walking alone in a giant city where I didn’t know a soul? Nick Cave, Let Love In.

Where did I put the feeling of alienation? Jesus Lizard, Liar.

Where did I put the feeling of understanding that comes only after a late night with good friends? Check Otis Redding, “Cigarettes and Coffee.”

Where did I put something so huge, overwhelming and rapturous as the tiny but persistent certainty that all mysteries are unified at both the atomic and cosmic level? That one gets split between Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” and “Atom Heart Mother Suit,” Funkadelic’s “Tales of Kidd Funkadelic,” and the third record by The For Carnation.

This whole thought process started with an essay I read on, of all things, the Tea Party’s insistence on revisionist American history, and the ways in which the academic pursuit of Accurate History bumps and grinds against our persistent reliance and desire for inaccurate cultural memories and nationalist myths. Since I could barely understand a word in that essay, I tried to cram it into a box that I could make sense of. To wit: Music.

I remember someone in a car with friends the summer after junior year. I remember someone being dumped. I remember someone walking around a city by himself. Those experiences are solidified and codified in the records I was listening to at the time, and when I hear those songs again, my history and my memory perfectly recollected as feeling, I remember exactly who that someone was.

“We got any existential uncertainty?”

“Look in the drawer.”

“We got any raw unchecked aggression?”

“Look in the drawer.”

“You seen the child-like abandon?”

“Look in the damn drawer!” 

Tagged: Raised Relief |