Sunday, 3 June 2018

How I stopped listening to music

I have always considered myself an eclectic listener, with my specialist subject being stanning for Joanna Newsom and my minor being in 90s emo (I always hoped to meet a soulmate with the exact same configuration in their own music taste. Hasn't worked out yet). It's never been a problem, except that in the past two years or so, I have stopped listening to music.

I mean, I put music on. Almost every day, in fact. My charts are faithfully updated just about every week, even after all this time. But I rarely put it on with purpose of truly listening. I just think, hmmm, I need to wake up, so let's whack on something on the thrashier end of the spectrum. Or I need to wind down and feel cosy, so I'll put on some early Beach House. Sometimes I'm reminded that I haven't listened to so-and-so in a long time and that should really change, but when I do put it on, I don't feel anything. Often, I have to switch the music off after one or two songs because it bugs me, for some reason.

I stopped feeling when I listened to music, and thus disappeared my desire to seek out new tunes. As a result, I've started to feel personally affronted, almost, when I see people who are recommending sweet new artists, stuff that everyone likes, and now seems to be a modern classic. Where did I drop the ball?

Maybe my attention span has become so exiguous, so worn-down, that my mind can't even cope with one thing at a time, let alone several — the same way I sometimes can't remember the last time I ate a meal while not in front of a screen. Maybe it's just my depression and the stress that has come from dealing with and seeking help for health problems linked to my menstrual cycle (people, if you feel like your whole life is governed by its whims, it is not normal). Maybe it's the way my emotional life has folded in on itself as I have begun to acknowledge my traumas as such, resulting in the world feeling like a much more intimately nasty place.

The part of me that's concerned with all this is the same part of me that engages with music, so of course it's going to have a knock-on effect.

These past couple of years have also been characterised by getting hold of my finances and figuring out what the best work set-up is for me. As I've worked more and more, and at unconventional hours, I've not had time to listen to stuff I really know and like. Instead, I've just been playing these lo-fi jazz-hop mixes in the background. You know what I mean: these. Minimum engagement, maximum focus. My brain knows what to expect with them, so it's lulled into a state of concentration. Songs with lyrics, especially songs I know very well, do nothing but interfere. And this financial anxiety means I am less likely to take a chance on dropping €20 on tickets to a show or a record of a band I'm not yet totally sold on, let alone spend money on those things merely to "signal" that I am cool and up-to-date enough for a certain scene. This has a significant impact on my social life, obviously, since music has sown the seeds of several of my friendships. I think frequently about how music formed my identity. In high school, I definitely felt isolated. In uni, a bit less so. Right now, as an adult, who cares? Could it be that my musical adolescence is finally over, and that's why I've gone off it?

My iPod Classic endures as a relic of all my early-20-something feelings. For some reason, while I can still scrobble and rip CDs onto iTunes (thank god!), I can't update my playlists. The last time was in 2015, maybe, then I just started getting an error message. So for three years, I haven't carried any up-to-date playlists based around new crushes or new eras around in my pocket. That stuff is for my Spotify, which luckily has a "hide from friends" feature ("private" isn't a word you can just throw around these days).
Yet for some reason, I've made the shift from listening to music on trains to reading on trains. Maybe it's got something to do with wanting to be alert and aware of what's going on around me at all times. I mean, not that having my nose stuck in a book is really much better, but it gives me something to hide behind, at least.

Comeback pop videos immediately praised as "iconic" seem to come out every week, and thanks to hanging out on the internet, I am kept abreast of them. When I watch them, I usually feel nothing. I'm lucky if a lyric ever even sticks out when I listen to a new song, let alone whether it resonates with me. I wonder if I'm broken, like maybe other people learnt to be normal in that particular way and I missed the memo. I think about how I find it hard to listen to music when I'm tired, or hungry, or when I need to pee. When I was much younger and listened to music on family car rides, it was an escape, but the noise coming out of my headphones always competed with the radio or the dull, nauseating noise of the tyres on the motorway. While it was a lifeline, I couldn't listen if these two needs on the bottom rung of the Maslowian hierarchy had not been fulfilled.

There's been a more recent slew of artists, such as Camp Cope and Tancred, who have slowly coaxed me back into listening to music. Sometimes my life feels so devoid of free time that I wonder whether I can truly relate to these songs, or whether I'm just fantasising that I do; that is, there are actually people who have the time and energy to have this array of experiences in the first place, and then to write such well-crafted songs about them. I get that this is a little bit like how we curate our Instagram lives and so we inadvertently make our friends and acquaintances feel like shit. My happiest moments are usually the ones I don't put online, and they are often to do with acts of kindness from strangers or coincidences that only mean something to me. I once sustained a geographically hopeless crush for months after finding out that we had an extremely random mutual friend, but couldn't say anything about it.

I am sick of blaséness about success in music scenes, literature scenes, whatever. It's really off-putting.

Ever since I was a child, I've lived so much in my head that none of this should be new. Yet it is. Reconciling your inner life with the realities of surviving as an adult is the kind of test you'd never have been able to have imagined aged 10, and there's no way of grading it. Maybe music isn't my comfort blanket anymore.