Song Envy

Better than earbuds.

Better than earbuds.

Finally, I’ve had a chance to review people’s Top 100 lists, which you’ll find in the comments here and here.

A few overview thoughts. It’s got to be the world’s most pleasurable Rorschach Test. It’s incredibly revealing to people who are genuinely interested in who you are. Yet it’s also a shot of adrenaline and self esteem for everyone who attempts it. When you look at the music that strikes your emotional chords in just that way, you rediscover memories you thought lost, scenes and times of your life that still matter all these years later, and you realize that your life — regardless of the prosaic patches we all have — has been amazingly rich, emotionally, sensorily, and esthetically. All this music is and has been in your head and heart the whole time. You are a very complicated person of unbelievably diverse interests. And you have more links to people and places and times and shared cultural events than a vine entwined tree in a tropical rainforest. Music memories are, in fact, a kind of time machine, instant transport to the emotional hot spots of our lives.

At first the 100 requirement seems excessive. But when you finish, you’re immediately struck by the fact that it’s hardly enough to convey the whole. You need another hundred or two or more, because this aspect of life we regard as peripheral to the important stuff is not peripheral at all. It’s the often silenced voice of our souls. It’s our connections, the demonstration of the metaphysical concept of the illusion of isolation. We do not exist separately and apart as everyday physics would suggest. When we pick a song we are absolutely, permanently connected in some way to everyone else who has been thrilled or moved by this same sequence of sounds.

I remember, for example, that the advent of iTunes was both a delight and, oddly, an emotional letdown. Everyone knows how much I love the Stones, but having acquired a number of their tracks, I did not play them as much as I thought I would. Not because I didn’t enjoy the music but because in spite of the fine sound quality, it did not pack the punch of a Stones A to Z weekend on “The Radio Station,” WMMR in Philadelphia. That was a communal, celebratory event. Every song that came on the radio in your car or living room was being shared by millions of others who were singing, doing air guitar riffs, and dance moves in concert with you.

It’s related to but distinct from actual attendance at a concert. In the arena you can see who is there. Some of the singing and dancing there is a function of direct contagion, people in proximity feeding off one another, influencing one another. Thoroughly enjoyable. Not gainsaying that. But the communion it represents and embodies is visible. There is something more mystical about the sensation of the invisible, the connections unseen that are nevertheless there.

I think I can illustrate. In 1989 The Rolling Stones released an album called Steel Wheels. The faithful had begun to think the band was broken beyond repair. Jagger and Richards had been publicly feuding for years, released their own solo albums, which generated additional spats between them. But then came Steel Wheels, and the impossible was going to happen, and there was going to be a monster tour. I was living in Dayton, Ohio, at the time, and the news came that the Stones would be doing a concert at Metropolitan Stadium, the home of the Cleveland Browns. Bought tickets, jumped in the car, and drove ecstatically to Cleveland.

Here’s the funny thing. The concert was fabulous, exceeding all expectations, but my keenest memory is not of the concert at all. It’s of the highway journey to the concert. Listening to the Stones on WMMS, Cleveland sister station of Philly’s WMMR, bopping along up the road, and then coming up behind a ratty old Black Dodge that obviously hadn’t been washed in months. As we neared the back bumper, prefatory to passing, we could see that someone had written a word by finger on the dirty trunk lid: STONES.

It was like one of those CGI scenes in the movies where the vast hidden network is suddenly illuminated in a radiant green light. I could instantly feel and see in my mind’s eye the stampeding pilgrimage of Stones fans from all over Ohio rolling toward Cleveland. An epiphany. Like all the lost returning home and being vouchsafed to recognize one another in the process of return. I was one of them and I felt more at home in that moment than I had ever felt during my six years of living in the state.

Contrast that with an image you all have in your heads — the teenage girl sulking in the back seat or walking the sidewalk with ear buds in her ears listening to her private playlist. She can’t hear conversations around her, is deaf to traffic noise, is as alone as it is possible to be. I’m not damning her. I have a set of earbuds too, and I have enjoyed listening to music I’m not likely to hear on the radio. I’m just saying (you know what I’m saying?) I do miss the aspect of sharing that the IPod technology seems to have stolen from us. I don’t know if I should feel sorry for her or not.

A very very long way of explaining why I have been so effusive in my appreciation for the lists people have posted. Every song I know and like on their lists is like an echo of the old radio communion. We have THIS in common, and I can start to imagine where you might have been when I was also listening to this music. Most have songs that are on my wife’s (still not written down) list but not on mine. Those are especially resonant. She has a cute way of dancing in her chair. It makes me imagine you doing the same, wherever you are.

Then there’s the whole other question of songs on your lists I don’t know. That’s what I’ve been digging into. And it’s like getting a letter out of the blue from a friend who’s telling you something you never knew.

For example, there’s************OOPS!

Lady Laird just called and I read her the post thus far. Over the phone I could see her making the cut throat gesture. What she said was, “Long enough already. Stop now. Do Part II later on.”

Sorry. I guess I got carried away. Stay tuned for, uh, Part II.

10 thoughts on “Song Envy

  1. I am so looking forward to this weekend when I might have a chance to participate in this. I’ve been mentally preparing my list, but I know that I’ll be reminded of so many other songs when I start going through my lists and libraries and old mixes.

    I miss that connection too. There are sharing services like Last.FM, iLike, and Spotify, but it’s not quite the same at all.

  2. Another win/lose factor about digital is how albums have changed. The good is that we can buy tracks a la carte now and don’t have to pay Best Buy $20 for something that turns out to only have one good song, which we heard on the radio all the time, anyway. The bad is that the experience of exploring an album has been diminished. I, for one, have gotten impatient when listening to music. I have my entire library on phone, set to shuffle, and I usually swipe through that depending on what mood I’m in. I can’t remember the last time I loaded up an actual album and listened to the whole thing like I used to do in high school.

    • Are albums any good any more? I remember so many from my childhood that I would just power through, because I think bands made them intentionally. They might be doing that now, but the last album I remember listening to as a whole was Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.

      • I thought about this more while driving home yesterday and remembered Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons. That’s an incredible album from start to finish. I almost overlooked it, too, since many of their songs are slow developing and the 10-second iTunes blurbs don’t do them justice.

        • Good call. I just tried that with their new one while driving in Iceland, but it didn’t have the same effect. Perhaps it’s novelty that makes us listen and keep listening to full albums?

          • Babel isn’t nearly as good. I think they only won the Grammy for that b/c Sigh No More got overlooked.

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