After more than a decade spent on the road playing music, typically surrounded by music on all sides, eating, sleeping and breathing alongside musicians who perform on a nightly basis, who talk about and listen to music daily… I started to hate music. I mean really hate it.
There’s a Friends gag (season 1, episode 23, “The one with the birth”) about an OBGYN whose dating life suffers in the wake of his professional life. So went my love for music. Like the waitress whose internal monologue growls, “if I see one more cup of coffee I’m going to lose it,” I became resigned to write my own music as a means to an end, to like what I write, to enjoy records I cared for before the decline, and to otherwise forget about music altogether.
But then things changed. We stopped touring full tilt all the time. I started to forget the sad world of juvenile, 2000’s “hardcore” music (read, “bad testosterone metal”) and (shudder)… screamo even existed. I feel icky even typing that word.
My aesthetic driven wife had been looking for a quaint, decorative turntable to set in a corner and spin old Tchaikovsky records while reminiscing about her ballet years, so I picked one up for her. Days later, we were thumbing around the record store when I happened upon a reissue of Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. This is a record I’ve purchased several times in my life. The record that, in 1994, drove me to fully consider the possibilities of creativity in music. This was after years of Queen, Aerosmith and AC/DC (my first musically formative experience), a few years into Weezer and Nirvana (the 2nd big step) and years still before I would discover punk rock (my third and final truly formative musical experience). The Downward Spiral looked nice all big and sturdy in its LP form. So I bought it.
It sat there for a while, then one evening it occurred to me to put it on. As I unwrapped the record, something weird started to happen: I had a kind of tactile, olfactory, nostalgic experience. I was actually opening an album. I wasn’t going to import any mp3’s or throw it in a glovebox. There was a certain feel to the heavy cardboard, a certain smell of the vinyl, the sound the record makes when pulled from the sleeve. I slid headphones over my ears, dropped the needle, sat down next to the turntable, and listened to the album. I just sat there and listened to the entire thing. I’ve heard this record hundreds of times, but it’d probably been almost twenty years since I’d given it this sort of attention. Honestly, it felt new.
I managed to recreate this same sort of experience with a few other life-changing records, and I found myself thinking about music. I started lingering in the isles of the record store rather than heading directly to a planned purchase. I made note of interesting looking album covers and record labels, examined records I’d always seen but never considered. Soon enough, I bought a new album—something unfamiliar. Then another, and so on. Sooner or later, I picked up something that didn’t leap from the speakers into my good graces immediately, but I had paid for the album, I had walked to the record store and picked it out… So I kept listening. And I started to get it.
I found myself overcoming what I’ve labeled, spotifatigue, that horrifically crippled attention span one develops when most of the music in the world is available at the press of a button in some crappy compressed mp3 format, and requires no money, no investment, and no interest to listen to. Spotifatigue happens when instead of inviting someone to investigate and discover new music, a bulldozer dumps everything there is to listen to on their heads and says, “it’s all free! Enjoy!” Great, it’s all here. Now what?
Because many great albums don’t show all their cards in the first few seconds of the opening track (when the majority of Spotify users skip any given song). With renewed patience and an IV feeding fluids into my previously withered attention span, I was more curious about music than I’d been in a long time. Albums I hadn’t given a fair shake I could now sit through with focus, even if I didn’t get it the first time. The Jesus Lizard’s Liar, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, The Talking Head’s Remain in Light… I was hearing them for the “first” time. And for the first time in many, many years, I was pursuing new music, new bands, and new records. Metz, Pissed Jeans, Savages, Big Black Delta.
It’s strange. Music seems to be one of the only forms of art and entertainment that audiences crave on a near-universal level, and yet expect to be completely free and available in full at all times. This raging sense of entitlement and devaluing of art that often requires tens of thousands of dollars (or more) and months of hard work (or more) seizes consumers in a zombified stupor as an exhausted, broke musician hands over his life’s work (for free). The zombie then takes this masterpiece, and without looking, sets it to the side, observes it out of the corner of his eye for thirty seconds, then throws it away and says, “what else ya got?”