Somewhere in the world, right this very second, in libraries and hotel lounges and those mythical cafes with free Wi-Fi and expensive-but-worth-it coffee, a person is desperately hoping nobody else will find out what they’re listening to through the buds in their ears or the headphones momentarily around their neck.
They’re ok until someone asks. Someone might see you sifting through album covers with the swipe of your thumb or opening up the new playlist you’re working on (because that is a fucking art, and don’t let anybody tell you any different) and it might get them curious. They might think you’re attractive and use it as a conversation-starter. They might think they can hear it and don’t want to anymore. They might spot the few CDs in your bag you took from the overcrowded shelf in your living room with every intention of depositing in your car for the times commercial radio makes you want to swerve into the oncoming lane of traffic and regret nothing. But if I’m the someone who’s asking, think carefully. Your answer’s going to mean more to me than it probably should.
If you’re anything like me, you judge people based on the kind of music they like. I’m not talking your run-of-the-mill, slight grievance. I’m not talking, ‘Holy mother of God. You have Guy Sebastian on here?’
No, I’m talking a full-blown, your-taste-is-immeasurably-awful-and-your-argument-is-invalid, deal-breaker.
Mutual taste in anything is a pretty important feature of any relationship. I’ve been known to have lengthy conversations with total strangers – staff, usually – in bookshops and record stores and never, ever see the person again but still feel as though I’ve gotten to know them, if only a little. I like to romanticise this (see: everything) by considering exchanges like these to be the entire foundation of human connection.
Hello. We’re talking. We’re talking about the CD I’ve picked up, the book I’m holding, the one you’re shelving, the pile you’re trying not to drop. I can see their spines, their covers. I know them, and so do you. We agree on something. We can now talk about that thing, together, with vested interest. And because we agreed on that thing, I wonder if we’ll agree on this other, similar thing. You haven’t heard of this new thing? Allow me to change your life with this new thing. This new thing that in five years time will undoubtedly remind you of me, whether you want it to or not, whether fondly or not. This new thing that might, if we’re lucky, lead to other new things and other new experiences and these will be, inexplicably, all shared from hereon in. It’s brought us together. It might drive us apart. But it’ll still be there, all the time, in either scenario.
I am, especially, a big fan of the “Have you heard?” conversations. Those things can start World War Three quicker than you can say Lana Del Rey.
The problem, I’m learning, in being so darn high-and-mighty when it comes to music (and writing – and, heck, films) is that you leave yourself extremely susceptible to massive fits of hypocritical behaviour.
Sometime while I was in the throes of essay-writing, over-tired and especially susceptible to any and all things that provided comfort – be it food, TV or setting – Fall Out Boy released a new album. And I listened to it. And I didn’t completely hate it.
See, I was, once, young and dumb. I’m still pretty young (and pretty dumb) but my tastes, as I have to remind my father every time Simple Plan put out a new single and he surprises me with that terribly uninteresting news, have changed. Matured, I like to think.
It doesn’t make me half of the cultured audiophile I probably like to think I am, but I now count among my favourite bands in the entire world groups like Death Cab For Cutie, The National, Frightened Rabbit, Vampire Weekend and, a little less importantly, Something For Kate, Sigur Ros, Counting Crows, The Jungle Giants, The Mountain Goats… My list goes on and on. One day I’ll get around to writing long manifestos on why everyone in the world needs to listen to albums like Narrow Stairs and Everything Is True before they die, but until then, trust me when I say that all the bands I like I almost always like because of their words. I have to love their lyrics. Everything else – everything – is secondary.
But lately, I’ve been regressing ever so slightly into much, much older territory. I think it started when My Chemical Romance broke up.
I’m remembering a time when I thought lyrics like “I could write it better than you ever felt it” was the most insanely poetic thing I had ever heard and would ever hear come out of a singer’s mouth. (Not gonna lie. Googling that song’s lyrcis has led to me listening to it again, right now. SLIPPERY SLOPE, GUYS).
The good news is, I have a solution: listen to bad music, but do it ironically.It’s pretty much the only way you, like me, are ever going to know every freaking word to this freaking awful/criminally underrated song and still be able to sleep at night.
Because at the end of that day in which you’re trying to get to sleep, you’ve been inspired. You’ve listened to music you love and love loving, and music you sort of wished you didn’t but can’t help it, and either way it’s made you think. About yourself, maybe, or the world, or a friend, or that random but in the very least polite record store guy who first said, ‘Have you heard?’ I suppose, in the end, it’s a defence mechanism. If we didn’t learn to like, or at least tolerate, the things that would have once driven us to distraction, we’d never get out of bed in the morning. I’ll try to be less judgemental. I like getting out of bed. I also kind of like the collaboration Fall Out Boy did with Elton John. (Things You Never Thought You’d Say). It means I’m either not as much of a music snob as I thought I was, or I’m never too old to not grow up, in however small a way. I kinda like both possibilities.