Listening Habits, 2023

I don’t necessarily hate it, but it’s annoying: the customer that comes up to the register with their earbuds on and completely ignores me when I say hi or ask if they need bags. It’s kind of rude, to be honest. [And yes, I will admit I was that same person back in my college years.] On the other hand, I am a bit curious as to what they’re listening to. I want to say it’s most likely a podcast or an audiobook, as those tend to be the most popular non-music thing people listen to with headphones. Still…at least pop one of those buds out so you can hear me, yeah?

Anyway…I’m trying to think of the last time I listened to music with headphones, and I’m pretty sure it was our flight to and from New England last year. We haven’t gone to the gym in months (although we have that on our 2023 resolution lists…), and I’m not counting the brief sessions in which I wanted to hear a new release in uninterrupted detail like the Revolver reissue. It’s been quite some time, really.

I mean, I could do what I used to do back in my high school days and listen to my mp3 player on the way to and from work (all of ten minutes) and during breaks, but again…kind of rude to anyone else that comes through the break room and I’m not up for that kind of short-session listening just yet. Maybe at a later time.

Still…I’ve been thinking about how to adjust my listening habits lately, and it’s a lot more to think about than I realize. Not just about headphones, but what I’m listening to (I mean, other than KEXP in the morning when I have a midshift). I’ve talked about missing out on listening deep-dives and connecting with music in general lately and wanting to fix that. And there is of course the fact that I’m about to embark on a Huge Writing Project that will demand a soundtrack mixtape or five.

I’m curious as to what will change in the coming months, if anything. Or if I’ll return to old habits that work. We shall see…

Coming Soon: A Listen to the Beatles’ Revolver: Super Deluxe Edition

When I have the time (and when Jules isn’t darting hither and yon and causing all kinds of chaos), I’ll finally have a sit-down-and-listen to the new Revolver box set! This album has long been my number one favorite Beatles record (with The Beatles coming an extremely close second) ever since I bought it sometime in the early 80s so yes, I am extremely familiar with it, inside and out. I’ve listened to it in headphones to recognize the quirks, semi-hidden sounds and edits. I play it every spring when I sit down to do my taxes. I’m slowly learning more of the songs on guitar.

So yeah…hearing this album with a completely new stereo mix is going to be interesting.

A few thoughts about music as safety

I just recently finished reading Brandi Carlile’s memoir Broken Horses and this particular song popped up, one I hadn’t heard for quite a while and forgotten I’d liked. It’s an “it gets better” song. It was partially inspired by a friend’s son that was getting bullied in school for not fitting in.

It got me thinking about my own teen years, in which I immersed myself in music as a form of safety. I wasn’t always bullied, at least not to any major or physical degree, but I definitely received my share of being called a f*g, thought of as a weirdo and excluded from most social circles, and being pigeonholed into a circle of outcasts and townies where I may have been accepted but it was definitely not a match I wanted or needed at the time.

And sure, I’ve already told you about the main reason I got into college radio and what became alternative rock: the whole fuck all of this conformity bullshit, go be true to yourself and you’ll be so fucking happier message it gave me. Not all of those songs had the “it gets better” theme, of course: some reveled in the darkness of life’s unfairness, and some reveled in destroying the status quo. It all spoke to me on a level few other things (and people) did. It said: the only real barriers you’re fighting are your own.

That, in a way, was the hardest lesson to learn of all, and it took me a LONG fucking time to really understand it.

Hearing this song again after so long and I think, yeah…same bullshit, different generation. We still have shitty people tearing others down who don’t conform to their way of living, praying, thinking, whatever. It’s why I’ve managed to stomach the shittiness of American Conservatives: they’re the same goddamn asshole jocks all grown up, still calling us f*gs and bullying us because we’re not like them. And that’s why I’ve managed not to fall prey to their violence: fuck all of this conformity bullshit, go be true to yourself and you’ll be so fucking happier. They still piss me off, but I refuse to let them ruin my life.

I still have my own barriers I’m fighting to tear down. There are far fewer than in the past, thankfully. Maybe a small handful instead of a teetering avalanche. One or two that are just about gone now.

And yet I still return to music for safety. It remains my emotional anchor to this day.

Listening from a different angle

You know you’re old when you remember this being played on TV.

Funny how turning ever so slightly makes all the difference.

For years I’ve had my PC monitor at the far left corner of my desk mainly because I had to share the space with my work PC and other things during my Work from Home years. It’s still there, but now there’s a second monitor that I’ve chosen to have as the primary. It’s slightly smaller, but it fits perfectly at rear center, flanked by my speakers.

And that’s where I’m suddenly realizing just how different things sound when you’re facing those speakers head-on rather than at a slight angle. I mean, I’d had the correct set-up for years elsewhere, including Arkham West, the Belfry, and most of my apartments in Boston, so it’s not as if I’ve been unaware of the proper placement of speakers for peak aural enjoyment…but sometimes peak wasn’t the easiest to achieve. Sometimes you make do with whatever setup you can get away with.

The wild thing, though, is just how different it sounds to me. I might have filtering issues when it comes to crowded white noise, but I’m also blessed with really good directional hearing. So now that I’m listening to my music correctly once more, I can really hear the mix, and it sounds heavenly. The music has depth and width now that I didn’t realize I’d missed all these years.

It’s almost as if this was the disconnect I’d been trying to figure out all this time…? Could it be that a simple error in placement kept me from truly connecting like I had in the past? Perhaps so.

Either way, this makes me want to explore more. Take more deep dives. Search for that connection with music I love so much.

Listening to…jets?

It’s Fleet Week here in SF which means the Blue Angels are once again WHOOOOSHing over our neighborhood. Alas, Karl the Fog (see above) has had other plans. We can definitely hear them, but it doesn’t look like we’ll be watching them any time soon.

There is a possibility that it might be clear tomorrow, but given how schizophrenic SF tends to be, who knows…?

Listening at Work

I’m actually kind of surprised here.

Most piped-in music at retail stores are feed subscriptions of mostly innocuous pop tunes that are enjoyable but not anything that’ll distract you from your shopping moods. (I say ‘most’ because our local Trader Joe’s seems to have cornered the Gen-X mood of 80s alt-rock faves and cool retro stuff instead.) At my store I can easily file our feed into three distinct formats:
–early 80s MTV (Thomas Dolby, Men Without Hats, Tears for Fears, etc.)
–mid 90s alternapop (Deep Blue Something, Dishwalla, Vertical Horizon, etc.)
–adult pop from about 5 years ago (Kelly Clarkson and so on)

The other day however, I heard this one song that I hadn’t recognized and pulled out the Shazam app. It happened to be the new(ish) 5 Seconds of Summer song I posted above, and thus the surprise: I was so used to hearing the same music loops day in and day out that hearing a new song was quite unexpected. I kinda like it, too! Just goes to show that the subscription feed we have does actually get updated now and again.

It reminded me of one of my other retail jobs, at the Longwood Coop in Brookline, where the loops were actually sent to us in this huge plastic cart that looked like a mutant cross between a laserdisc case and a radio station cartridge, and carried a couple dozen songs. Each cart had a different musical mood, and, you guessed it, I’d try to sneak on the one that had the weird alternative songs, one of which was a New Fast Automatic Daffodils track that I’m sure no one in the store had ever heard of. And during my HMV days, we had a set collection of promos we’d play in store, but on days where I was floor manager I’d throw on some wildly obscure imports instead.

Sure, I don’t have any say in what gets played at this job, but I’m not going to complain about it. Most of it’s enjoyable, and mostly already in my mp3 collection anyway. But it is fun to have that occasional surprise song that trips me up!

Revisiting

I’ve been thinking about revisiting some discographies lately, mainly the ones of bands I used to listen to obsessively back in my youth. One of the inspirations for this was the reissue of REM’s Chronic Town EP a few weeks ago, their first release on the IRS label.

I’ve always been an early-era fan of the band up to and including 1988’s Green, and it’s been ages since I’ve listened to those first albums other than hearing the occasional single on the radio (usually “The One I Love” or “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”, but occasionally I’ll hear “Superman” as well). Me and my high school friends were big fans of the band and taped each other’s copies of their albums into our own collections. But I haven’t listened to Lifes Rich Pageant in ages, and I used to play that one a ton in my college years.

So how is this different from any other time I obsess over 80s alternative rock? Well, instead of slinking back into the memory banks to relive those times or attempting to work on the Walk in Silence book, this is just…for fun, just like before.

I think part of it is tied into what I was talking about in the previous post, in which I find myself so constantly wrapped up in New Releases every week that few songs are actually sticking in my head. Which leads to the question: how is it that these REM songs (and Smiths songs, and Love and Rockets songs, and so on) stick like Gorilla Glue where the new songs don’t?

I think it’s partly because I’m not allowing those new songs to anchor themselves in the first place. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to do that somehow. The focus has gone from the music to the procurement of it. Which of course feeds into my obsessive tendencies, but doesn’t really move me emotionally, does it?

I’ve been trying to figure out how to change that these last few months. How do I let these songs into my psyche when I’ve forgotten how to do that? What do they have to anchor to? Moments in time, memories in the making? So many of those songs are fleeting, great to listen to but never quite moving me emotionally. Produced too clean, given airplay to a station that smothers us with its constant repetition. Caught in a race with millions of other songs, all trying to enter my subconscious at the same time.

It’s time to revisit how I made them stick in the first place. Allowing the song to percolate and simmer for a while in my mind, to allow it to latch onto a moment in my life. Keeping myself from getting constantly distracted by yet another song that sneaks up behind it. Allow the song to become a part of my own personal and private world rather than chasing after several songs at once as they go by.

Deep Dive

I’ve been doing a deep dive into 80s music lately.

I’m shocked, SHOCKED! I hear you say, not bothering to hide your eyeroll. But this is different, honest! I mean, sure, I’ve been listening to some of my old mixtapes and radio tapes, primarily because of a few writing projects I’m working on, but instead of doing the usual dive into records that have a bit of a long history to them, I’m playing around with records I remember seeing in the bins back in the day that have kind of been forgotten.

Not the “forgotten” bands that were really one-hit-wonders, or “obscure” bands that actually get a lot of airplay on certain genre stations. (And on the other side of the spectrum, I’m not yet at the “outsider” musicians that are just a bit too weird and impenetrable for my current tastes. I’m getting there, though.) I’m talking about the ones that I distinctly remember hearing on college radio and seeing their videos on 120 Minutes.

I’m talking about bands like the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience…

…or Gaye Bykers On Acid…

…or Fetchin Bones…

The funny thing is that many of these bands were the ones where I could never find their records, or never got around to buying them for budgeting reasons, or that I didn’t want to chance it if I didn’t exactly like it. I’m coming across a lot of them and checking out their grainy ripped-from-videotape music videos on YouTube. A lot of them are bands where I’d said I’d check them out sooner or later because I’d been hyperfocused on other obsessions…and I’m now realizing that I’ve finally come to the “later” part of that equation.

Some of these bands have stood the test of time, or are definitely a time capsule of a specific style. Some of them have not aged well at all (there’s one comic-punk band I used to like, but now sound like those one-joke pastiches you’d hear on those “irreverent” (read: tasteless bro humor) Morning Drive radio shows). They’re the bands that haven’t had as much of the Old Wave Renaissance play on satellite radio, but they’re the bands music nerds like me will remember.

What am I getting out of this? Well, aside from expanding my soundtracks and playlists, they’re filling some much-neglected holes in my personal history of listening to college radio. And as I’d hoped and expected, they’re also bringing back some memories I’d long forgotten. They’re putting the music history (and my own history) in a much richer context, that 80s college radio wasn’t just about The Cure and Depeche Mode and Wire and REM, but about the smaller bands and scenes that popped up. The music from different parts of the country — or the globe — that had a small but sizeable fanbase of their own. The music that may have somehow made its way onto major labels, but for the most part felt right at home on the independents.

And let me tell you, I’ve been having a hell of a fun time with it all!

Coming Soon: First Listens

Source: K-On!

I’ve been posting Favorite Albums and New Release Reviews for so long that I think I’m starting to burn out. I’ve already talked about a lot of my all-time faves (numerous times for some), so maybe I should shake it up.

SO! It occurred to me that The Internet Kids have been using a variation of music blog and vlog by posting First Listen reaction videos. I’m sure you’ve seen and enjoyed some of the best out there (such as this classic featuring Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’). I’m certainly not someone who wants to create a reaction vlog, though. I’d rather be behind a camera than in front of it. And for the longest time I felt reaction videos were kind of silly, but I kind of get them now, especially if they’re done in a fun way like this.

So what I was thinking is, there’s got to be a significant number of bands, musicians and albums that are well-known that even I haven’t gotten around to listening to, right? I might be familiar with their discography and history, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve ever gotten around to sitting down and listening to it, or even owning it. I know a handful of Neil Young songs thanks to classic rock radio and MTV, but do I even know what After the Gold Rush or Harvest sounds like? I live less than three miles from Haight-Ashbury, but do I really know more than maybe five Grateful Dead songs?

I’m thinking this might be worth looking into, and also a hell of a lot of fun. Sometimes I’ve avoided these musicians due to disinterest, and other times it’s due to their unavailability (or my being too broke), but I’ve also ignored them due to rock radio overplaying the same three songs out of their multi-album, multi-single career and turning me off them. It’s my own ridiculous prejudice there, so I think it would be interesting to work past that and see and hear what I’ve been missing.

This won’t just be classic rock or albums from Rolling Stone’s Usual Cast of All-Time Greats. There are a lot of records out there that I’m familiar with by name, fame, infamy, or word of mouth, but have bypassed for one reason or another. This includes different genres as well: I’d like to try ’em all.

I’ll be taking next week off to come up with a list of albums to try out and how to deliver this crazy little idea in blog form, and hopefully by the end of the month I’ll have a few posts for you! Stay tuned!

Let the Golden Age Begin

Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.

I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.

This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.

A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.