Why I Listen…
I heard R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” on the radio this morning. As I sang along the “Yeah, yeah, yeah”s, my mind was transported back to October 2004. I climbed the stairs in Cobo Hall to those seats even the nosebleeders scoffed at to see The Boss, wsg R.E.M., John Fogerty, and Bright Eyes in tow. I never heard R.E.M. before, but they were so bright and jangly, so the next few weeks, I dove into their music. But listening to R.E.M. today didn’t just remind of the concert or October/November of ‘04, it reminded me of who I was at nineteen.
Music documents my life. The summer of ‘05: I grew out my hair and listened to George Harrison, CSNY, The Mamas and The Papas, and Donovan. Summer of 2004: I worked graveyards at Target, listening to Born In The U.S.A. and Peter Gabriel. In 1989, my family drove to Estes Park, and I listened to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (a rebel was born, I guess.) Throughout the different changes in my life, music was playing. Today when I heard “Man On The Moon,” the song hadn’t changed since I last heard it years ago. But I’ve changed. I love it, you know, because once a song is waxed, it is unchanging. Yet we’ve all heard songs we’ve hated, only to rehear later and love. We’ve all loved songs and grown tired of them until months later, years later, we hear it again and suddenly we go back in time and appreciate how much we’ve changed (or how little.) I don’t watch home movies, I don’t take pictures, I listen to music.
Starting with my dad’s copy of The Game, I collected LPs. As analog technology, in an age where digital has gone crazy, I can’t stress enough, the uncompressed full LPs sound better; they have much richer album art and lower prices. And, hey, LPs are way cooler. Anyone wanting to enter the realm of music snobbery, a turntable is certainly a necessity. But most importantly, LPs add a physical connection to music listening: pushing play on an iPod is in no way similar to placing a needle on an LP.
The first LP I bought after moving to Ann Arbor was Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. As Layla become a chapter of my life (my first weeks at college,) it occurred to me that this was somebody’s. I imagined someone coming home from the record store thirty years ago with a brand new LP playing it while getting over a break-up, or entertaining guests, or learning the riff from “Layla” on guitar. LPs are very much pieces of the past, and the pops and noise, remnants of each play, and integral parts of the LP aesthetic, transform the art of the music into a product of the listener. Mp3’s, collections of ones and naughts, can never be destroyed, but LPs wear out, turning music almost into an autodestructive art form. An LP is like if everyone who visited the statue of David in Florence took a small chip of marble home with them. Granted, those non-breakable LPs are more fragile, but that just puts more importance on every spin.