Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On Listening

One of the great pleasures of my youth that has become a rare occurrence for me as an adult has been the act of actively listening to music with people. Sitting in a room or being a car with a group of friends, getting into a song or an album, turning someone on, or being turned on by them in return – those moments have provided me with some of my favorite moments in life. They can shape how I listen to something and how I can get my past my own immediate judgments and biases – and they now occur all too infrequently.

I write of this because a couple of weeks ago, I was at a dinner party with some friends, and at the end of the night, there were four of us sitting around listening to music. Our lovely hostess, Amber, was playing Odetta’s version of “Gallows Pole.” I, of course, learned the song through hearing it on Led Zeppelin III, and when I found out that Amber hadn’t heard Zeppelin’s version of it, I broke out my iPod and we listened to it.

I’ve heard the song at least a hundred times, and it’s never been one of my favorite Zeppelin songs, but as the song began and built momentum - Jimmy Page’s slowly strummed acoustic guitar turning firmer into that signature riff in the chorus, adding banjo and mandolin, Robert Plant’s vocal rising in pitch and intensity as the song’s tension built and cracked into John Paul Jones and John Bonham’s irrepressible rhythm section – well, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time. As we listened, everyone’s head was moving in unison, and very spontaneous smiles broke out on our faces, and without a word exchanged between us, we knew we were experiencing something special – and it was only special because it was a shared experience.

I learned something important that night – oftentimes it’s less important what you’re listening to then who you are listening with and how you are listening. I used to believe that listening to music was a passive experience – but it’s not, at least not necessarily. To actively listen to a piece of music, to find yourself in it and to find what you can create for yourself in it – well, that’s just one of the best experiences life has to offer.

And it’s a hell of a lot more fun to do it with other people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well-put. And the problem, more than anything else, is the way in which we listen to music in the "iPod Age."

Once was a time that you'd put an LP on the turntable (or a CD in the single-slot CD player) and listen to the album straight through. By necessity, that experience encouraged you to pay more attention to the music.

But today, with 100-disc changers, 80-gig iPods, and 300-gig iTunes libraries, it's become all but impossible to focus attention on a specific album.

I got a great birthday present from my wife a couple of years ago: a turntable. And it's been an absolute blast going into used record shops and stocking up on classic albums for $1 apiece. Even if I own the album on CD, there's something special about opening up an LP, with the oversized artwork and the importance of "Side A" and "Side B."

Now, before I'm classified as a dinosaur, it should be said that I actually "came of age" (where music was concerned) in the "Cassette Age."

I never had much interest in LPs growing up, I loved the portability of cassettes. And it's only recently that I've come to appreciate how much more you got for your money when buying an LP back in the 1970s and 1980s than when buying a cassette, a CD, or today, an "album" on iTunes.

Having enjoyed the LP experience so much, I made a conscious decision to purchase a single-slot CD player for the living room in our current apartment. Each album is a distinct listening experience, and I'm really relishing the opportunity to re-discover CDs I haven't spent much time with in years, if not a decade or more.

So whether it's listening to a single album on your iPod or getting back to the CDs (or LPs) on your shelf, I highly recommend taking a step back from the current modus operandi and incorporating some of the traditional methods into your listening habits.

And keep up the great work, the blog is awesome!