Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Listening Skills

So you bought a new CD and now you’re just putting it on. Don’t just sit there doing nothing, waiting for it an epiphany. Go do the dishes or something. If the CD’s good, it will get your attention. And maybe not the first time, either. Sometimes you have to just give it time. Some of my all time favorite albums didn’t hit me until listen six. A couple, even later than that.

Listen to your inner cheapskate who is telling you I just spent x dollars on this thing, I’d better invest at least a few spins in it. If you’re the type who spends good money on a CD and then puts it away after one listen, you obviously have way too much of it. Stop buying music, and give the money to charity. I’ll include my address.

The reason I’m going on about this is that you could very easily dismiss a perfectly good CD because you are in one mood and the CD is good for a completely different one. So it’s important to find the right time play it.

First, don’t open a new CD by an artist you don’t know, and then play it during “family time”. It’s the “No Soul Coughing at Dinner Time” Rule. I came to love their CD “Ruby Vroom” but it really didn’t work for the wife and kids at that moment. (It kicked in big time on a Walkman during a long train ride, though.)

Then there’s the right time of day. This is very subjective, since it has a lot to do with whether you’re a morning or an evening person. If when you first wake up, you can’t decide to use the razor to shave or slit your wrists, you probably shouldn’t put on Meat Loaf (music or food) at 7am. If you are a little more chipper than that, and think ML would be cool at that time, as one ex-girlfriend did, you should probably stop reading this now anyway. If you live next door to me, you’ve probably heard from me already.

Some CDs are great in the morning, like Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” or Nick Drake’s “Five Leaves Left” because of how they can gracefully ease you into the day. These same CD’s may seem a bit draggy by mid-day when you have to be somewhere and you’re still waiting for the artist to get dressed.

Time of the year is important too. I like tuneful pop and energetic electric guitars during the summer, as a way of fending off the heat and humidity. I don’t recommend being too adventurous. You want something that will bear you up while the sun is beating down on you. It should probably be either very familiar sounding or just plain pleasant. After all, it’s hot as hell out there. But that’s me. I once played Peter Gabriel’s third album (you know, the one about torture, war and assassination…hmm…maybe this isn’t helping) for a captive audience on a beautiful summer day while driving to a Mets game. The only reason I survived was that everyone was too depressed to beat the sh*t out of me. The Mets lost, too. I like the album a lot, but it’s definitely for the winter.

The autumn is for more song oriented albums. Less flash, more texture and depth. The more melancholy the better. Break out those minor chords! But nothing too heavy. Summer’s just finished fer chrissakes! In the late fall, as the holidays begin, I find myself listening to music that I had listened to before at this same time of year. It really brings back the memories, and can put you in the holiday mood without having to listen to a bunch of Christmas songs you’re totally sick of. The important thing, though, is to get something new so that you will remember this year, too.

Winter (after Christmas) is for experimentation. I’m hibernating anyway so I don’t want anything too happy or uplifting. I may have asked for a boxed set for Christmas (“The Complete History of Depressing Music”). The windows are shut tight and it’s kind of quiet. Everyone’s in bed. This is good, because I may have another Soul Coughing on my hands.

Spring depresses the hell out of me for some reason (perhaps the music I’ve been listening to for the prior three months?), so I need music that heals whatever imaginary wounds I’ve inflicted on myself. This is a very hard quality to pin down. The music should be soothing but not boring. The one that worked best for me is Yo La Tengo’s “I Can Hear the Heart Beat As One”. But for those of you who prefer to sit back and enjoy your depression, I suggest Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, which I spent several months listening to, to the exclusion of all else. Sometimes the healing just has to wait.

You can probably think of your own favorites that are specific to a time of year or a time of day. When you try to place them in a different context, they just don’t work as well. You don’t have ice cream for breakfast, and you probably don’t have cereal at night, so why wouldn’t you have similar needs or preferences when trying to nourish your soul?

Now go and enjoy your new music.

Now playing: Soul Coughing - Casiotone Nation
via FoxyTunes
Now playing: Peter Gabriel - Biko
via FoxyTunes
Now playing: Yo La Tengo - The Lie and How We Told It
via FoxyTunes
Now playing: Wilco - I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
via FoxyTunes

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