A year ago I stopped listening to music. This wasn’t a sudden thing; I didn’t decide one day to ‘kick’ music, like I’d kicked cigarettes, or Twixes or going on cookdandbombd during working hours. I just gradually reached a point where I didn’t have any music on my mp3 player and didn’t listen to any during the working day.
I still came into contact with music, of course – you can’t be married to a gifted and knowledgeable musician without hearing a lot of good music on a daily basis, but as of one year ago, I stopped listening to, consuming, or buying music.
This development came as something of a surprise to me, and a worrying one at that. From my first listen to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band aged 11, I had been powerfully obsessed with music; initially with sixties pop and rock, then prog, then the guitar bands of the nineties, then classical and krautrock and chart pop and chanson and dub and baroque and … pretty much everything I came into contact with.
From the age of 15 I bought monthly music magazines, and the weekly ones as well for a good few years. Not a month would go by without me buying at least two albums and my ears were pretty much constantly ringing from persistent listening to an ever-changing selection of music on my ipod.
So what was it that caused one of the abiding passions of my life to wane?
It seems to me now that a variety of factors was at play: in 2005 an old interest re-entered my life: Doctor Who. Fandom being what it is, a pretty fearsome range of magazines, podcasts, blogs and forums became available and I was (and to a large extent still am) immersed in this. Podcasts like Radio Free Skaro and Toby Hadoke’sWho’s Round became permanent fixtures on my mp3 player, and my monthly purchases of The Word (RIP), Mojo or Record Collector were supplanted by Doctor Who Monthly.
Another change in my life was that, as of about six years ago, I started taking writing seriously (or at least trying to). As I’ve written more and more comedy and looked further into how to be good at this, I’ve found Stuart Goldsmith’s Comedians’ Comedian podcast an invaluable learning aid. Each week Stuart interviews a different stand-up about their writing methods and views on comedy. Additionally, since being lucky enough to be asked to do some ‘additional material’ writing on Radio 4’s The News Quiz and The Now Show, both these shows have been added to the weekly download list.
Adding all those up, it doesn’t leave much time in the week (or space on the mp3 player) to listen to music. This element of the situation isn’t something I regret; when I’m walking around on my lunchbreak, I’m not listening to Hex Enduction Hour for the seventieth time – I’m learning how to be better at something I want to be good at.
The question remains, though: I wasn’t listening to my old albums over and over again any more, but what was stopping me looking for new music? This, I think, is where there’s been some kind of fundamental change in me. Simply put: I used to care about What Bands Did, but I don’t any more.
There are, of course, exceptions to this: I made my first music magazine purchase in three or four years yesterday to read the Blur interview in Mojo and I avidly keep up with any news on Beatles reissues, bootlegs, biographies etc. But the part of me which would have cared that the original line-up of the Thirteenth FloorElevators is re-forming for a gig in Austin this summer is, if not dead, then certainly dormant.
Blur and The Beatles are both old bands, though. Didn’t I want to hear any NEW music? It seemed not. Whereas in the past I’d have Youtube’d a new song praised by Pitchfork, or taken up friends’ recommendations, for almost a year I just…didn’t.
I know, to my occasional shame, that there is ridiculous novelty and startling new music out there and I’m not bothering my soon-to-be-thirty-nine-year-old arse to find out about it. Perhaps all this is a function of aging: at this time of my life, I’d rather write thousand-word blog articles about there being no good music than use the very computer I’m sitting at RIGHT NOW to find some.
In summary, podcasts took the place of music in my daily listening and I didn’t bother to look for new music to be excited by.
One question which people might ask, arising from this, is: ‘How can someone playing in a committed, active musical group just stop listening to music?’ The answer is: I don’t know. Not listening to music in no way affected the high level of enjoyment I get out of playing, performing and recording with Moss & Jones. It would be neat (in the non-Californian sense) to be able to say being in a band while not listening to music made being in a band in some way experientially different but that wasn’t the case. I loved playing music in Moss & Jones when I was a raging harmoniaphile and I loved it when I wasn’t.
As you may have gathered from some of the tense-jumbling in this piece, my amusical days are now behind me. For the past four or so months, I’ve been listening to music again, and enjoying it. The catalysts for this have been…
a.) Last November, someone very generously gave us a car. I commute to work in said car at least one day per week and, given that I’ve not mastered the jiggery-pokery necessary to hook the mp3 player up to the stereo, I’ve been relying on the vehicle’s cd player, and my long-discarded crop of cds.
I can remember the first one of these I put on in the car, in a ‘God, I hope I still like music’ way: Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. I’d bought this years ago but never listened to it all the way through. Now, hearing it through reasonably good speakers at a time when I had forty minutes to do nothing but listen (and drive), was pretty much the ideal circs for reacquainting myself with enjoying music.
I wonder, in fact, if listening to so many compressed mp3s through cheap, hissy earphones was part of what put me off music in the first place? A podcast through crackly earphones is bearable, a favourite album is not.
b.) Over the past five or so months, a few of my musical faves have reappeared with new albums, giving me the incentive of hearing something ‘new’ while also knowing it’s something I’ll very probably like. A part of my soul rebels at typing those words: I used to pretty much despise people who only wanted to listen to stuff they already knew they’d like. I think at the moment, though, that new music by artists I’m familiar with is a good way of easing myself back into new music in general.
For the record, the music in question has been Half Man Half Biscuit’s Urge ForOffal, what I’ve heard so far of Blur’s forthcoming The Magic Whip and the utterly wonderful You and I Alone by Daphne and Celeste (if you’re not with me re that last choice, go and give their debut album a listen: 7/8ths of it is fantastic).
So, now I like music again. HOORAY! Looking back to that time, though, the notion that I’d somehow lost the ability to enjoy listening to music was a genuinely frightening one and I’m very grateful that that it seems to have passed.
One thing remains: the thing I most want to hear in all the world of music is Ridiculous Novelty. THAT’S what I miss, and it’s been a long time since something’s hit me like that. So, dear reader, this is open to you: What can I listen to that will surprise the FUCK out of me?