Ordinary language is all right.
One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.
If I were filming it, maybe an appropriate if hackneyed image would be me, in a small room, walls, floor, ceiling closing in on me. My musical world has contracted.
Selling hundreds (?) of old CDs this spring just made me focus more on what other things I own but never listen to. I still have plenty left, but I never feel like playing them. I count many good records among them. But this isn't enough to make me want to hear them. What's most unsettling (?) about this is that those records I haven't wanted to play in a long time start resembling the ones I haven't wanted to play because I think they're no good.
"No good" is loaded, but yeah, no good. Even if Loveless is a great achievement blah blah sonic cathedrals blah blah vacumn cleaner blah blah I don't ever want to listen to it for any reasons other than sort of dutiful curiosity - is it any more appealing to me this time? A lot more? Then who the fuck cares?
This attitude is extending itself to a great number of records I have formerly found much more appealing than I ever found Loveless. In one way, what it is is my past slipping away from me. My recent past, sometimes as recent as a couple of years ago. I have memories (not necessarily events in the world, memories of people or places, but even just sensations, emotions, attitudes, feelings) locked up in some of those records, and their potential repeatability, some day, with some other records, isn't enough to stop me from regretting that I haven't done more to hold on to them.
If indeed I could have. I put it that way, haven't done more, because it seems as if for years I've been listening in a certain way, one that's made a lot of differences, but one which may have increased the rate of attrition. Buying lots of records, it's easy to focus on newer ones rather than older ones, and among the older ones, on records I have stronger connections with, or that I have reasons for pursuing (like Loveless, again) despite lack of connections. I also have a tendency to follow my whims. If I seem to want to listen to Sonic Youth and hip-hop for three months straight, then that will structure the bulk of my listening experiences accordingly. I think this means that the albums I connect with the most, the ones that hold a special place in my life, do so partly by chance. (I realize that I might be inclined to say this is normally how things work anyway, but you get me.) This may mostly be a matter of listening time. Mine is more fragmented and constantly reapportioned than it might otherwise be (how many times did I listen to any of my favorite albums, aged 16?, versus now?), and I maybe even consciously try to override any attempt at conscious control of it.
So lately I've been thinking about canons and lists and things, in this light. The last time I tried to make a list of my favorite albums, this is as far as I got:
Aquemini - Outkast
Bitches Brew - Miles Davis
Camofleur - Gastr Del Sol
Change - The Dismemberment Plan
Crescent - John Coltrane
The Curtain Hits the Cast - Low
Dirty - Sonic Youth
Dots and Loops - Stereolab
Emergency & I - The Dismemberment Plan
From Our Living Room to Yours - American Analog Set
The Golden Band - American Analog Set
The Hot Rock - Sleater-Kinney
I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One - Yo La Tengo
In Utero - Nirvana
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space - Spiritualized
Mission: Control! - Burning Airlines
Music for 18 Musicians - Steve Reich
Music Has the Right to Children - Boards of Canada
Musical Offering - J.S. Bach
Pinkerton - Weezer
Red Apple Falls - Smog
Red Medicine - Fugazi
Rock Action - Mogwai
69 Love Songs - Magnetic Fields
Straight, No Chaser - Thelonious Monk
There's no way I would want this list to stand, because I know where its flaws are, as far as representing what I wanted it to. I tried to only pick albums that I feel a very thick or deep connection to - records I like for lots of different reasons, or in lots of different contexts, or at lots of different moments, or especially strongly, or for a long time. None of that explains what I mean. But even with that criterion, there are problems. Some of these are more recent additions, and I can tell that they're just the sort of thing that might disappear from such a list in two years. Some I haven't listened to as much in the past year or two, and when I have I haven't felt as strongly about them. Some that made it onto a previous, much shorter version of this list have disappeared, but I would seem to love them as much as some of the ones listed here. I left them off, though, to remind myself. (And so I don't forget, one is Massive Attack's Protection, which a listen to a week ago reminds me is still wonderful.) Also, with some artists, I just hit too many walls. Surely there are more jazz records that mean as much to me as some of the records I listed above, but I don't know how to pick from among at least handfuls by some artists. E.S.P.? Miles in the Sky? Giant Steps? A Love Supreme? Stellar Regions? And more: it's short on things I want to pay more attention to, or things I love but don't have albums for, or or or...
I'm not so sure this list does much for making my own fragmented and complex life as a listener intelligible. But it is good for at least one thing, potentially: articulating a body of things that I would like to pay more conscious attention to (differentially, not uniformly, because of the above comments), as a way of preserving those records - those moments, experiences, feelings - that might otherwise fall away from me. Now I have to do the work to keep these things alive, or at least, give them a better shot.
There are things to do besides just listen.
My roommate said Sam Prekop sounded like the guy from Modest Mouse. I was aghast.
When doing "absolutely" nothing, also: it tends to be with albums that I treasure a great deal, that I'm very familiar with. At least, more often than not, that is, not excluding the not.
I never listen to new albums "carefully" any more. For basically any of them but the ones I've most been looking forward to (see Change), I just immediately integrate them into my normal listening patterns as well as I feel like doing. That is, listening on the bus, listening in my office, at home, while reading, while writing, while grading, while walking, in mixes, alone, listening all the way through, giving up early, changing my mind in favor of something else, changing my mind in favor of nothing, making noises, twitching my feet, dancing, not dancing, occasionally, frequently, constantly, regularly, warily, excitedly, tiredly, dutifully, willingly.
Things I did with my body while listening to various records recently:
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation: twitched my feet back and forth rapidly.
Stereolab: made farting noises with my mouth, rocked my head back and forth.
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue: put my feet on the wall by my bed, swayed my knees back and forth, held my forearm over my forehead so that I couldn't see.
James Brown: swaggered, ambled, made poor approximation to inarticulate scream of Mr. Brown.
Wu-Tang Clan, "Pinky Ring": whistled horn sample.
Kardinal Offishall, "Maxine": said "a ho is a ho", "tee dot oh", "she love me in her dee vee dee yo", others aloud at moderate volume in imitation of Kardi. Sang "Maxine" etc.
I don't like the word, "banal". The previous sequence of entries might be. But perhaps there's a difference between a thing's being banal, and the act of taking notice of that thing, of the role the thing plays.
Are riding the bus and walking considered "doing nothing"? Sometimes when I ride the bus I read, too, so maybe not. And in either case I think my mind is more active, thinking about whatver it is I think about, than when I do as in the previous entry, listening only.
Walking takes more concentration than one might think.
Even while thinking constantly ("constantly"?), I am focusing a great deal on the music. Often it points me toward my next thought. Often not.
When do I just listen (if I ever do), and do nothing else?
Mostly when tired.
But also when particularly seized by a piece of music.
In the former case, I tend to hear most of the piece of music, as I am not doing anything for a long time. This is where I tend to fall asleep, also.
In the latter case, the time for which I do nothing is briefer. I stop doing something, an start doing it later. Perhaps after I feel rested - so maybe this, too, is something I do when tired. They might be different levels of tiredness.
Records I especially enjoy doing the latter to are by the American Analog Set, when in my office, at my desk, when the sun is shining through my window.
Music I have taken brief naps to in the past few days, or at least, music I have played while sort of drifting in and out:
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation. Yo La Tengo, Electr-o-Pura. My two previous mixes. The Sea and Cake, The Biz. Sonic Youth, Murray Street. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Stereolab, Sound-Dust. Lamb, Fear of Fours.
Something I did while listening to...
... Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, last night:
At first, nothing. I had been reading; I set the book aside, and the computer, too. This is one of the few albums which I listen to where my mind doesn't wander at all. Unless this counts: eventually, after following the parts for a while, I started singing along - to the background parts. Singing quietly. I tried to see how long I could keep it up singing to a solo. And how on pitch I could be. Problems I encountered: matching my vocal range to the instruments' ranges. Singing quickly enough for certain fast parts that I knew. Singing anything other than garbled rising or falling or up and down sounds for fast parts which it turns out I did not know as well as I thought. (Sort of like the difference between being able to recognize a room known well to you, versus being able to reconstruct how that room looks from memory.) Tiring. Singing on pitch (to correct this, I tried singing with one ear held closed; I think it helped).