Image courtesy of that classic 1983 Maxell commercial.
I’ve been thinking about this lately. I’ve been drawn toward music since I was a little kid. I’d hang out down in the basement where my dad would work on his local history files, and he’d always have the radio on. The car radio would be on when we went on vacations or road trips. I’d listen to the albums and singles my elder sisters would buy from the local department store. And of course come 1978, I started collecting Beatles albums and singles. It only expanded exponentially from there. I was part of the generation brought up on MTV and remember watching that channel for hours on end.
Nowadays I’ll have an album from my mp3 collection playing while I write, or streaming a station during my Day Job hours. I have playlists for my novels. I still make mixtapes. I’ve been known to listen to the same album multiple times, usually at the gym or working on a specific stretch of a novel project. There’s hardly a time when I don’t have something playing in the background. [Ironically, however, I don’t have anything playing at the moment while I write this.]
Is it really about obsession? Is it an addiction, for that matter? Maybe a bit of both. But I’d like to think there are deeper reasons than that.
For instance, I love the effect that music has on me creatively. I taught myself how to write a scene by imitating the framework of a song. [As mentioned before, I call this the Miami Vice method of writing.] The moods of certain tracks will provide me with ideas and settings for what I might be writing about.
I also love the effect it has on me emotionally. I got through a lot of my high school years listening to college rock on my headphones. It’s gotten me through a lot of emotional ups and downs over the years. And recently I started getting choked up hearing one of my all-time favorite classical pieces, the famous second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op 11 (aka the Adagio), performed live at the SF Symphony Hall.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how it affects me in a physical way as well. I have a very strange sense of hearing; I have a really good sense of spatial hearing (the ability to figure out the relative direction and location origin of a sound), but at the same time I sometimes have a tough time filtering out unnecessary noise (I can’t always clearly hear what someone says, for instance, at a very loud restaurant). And I’m pretty sure I have an extremely light case of tinnitus from all the tunage I’d listened to with headphones over the years.
I started thinking that perhaps one of the reasons I still listen to a lot of music is that it’s my own personal way of filtering. Some people use white noise generators, some people use noise-cancelling headphones, and so on. I have music to let my subconscious focus on something so the rest of me can focus on whatever needs focusing at that moment. This would also explain the sometimes amusing habit some people have of turning off the car radio when trying to get to their destination in a place they’re unfamiliar with. I know I’ve done that in the past. It’s also the reason I have to turn things down if A. talks with me, because otherwise all the sounds will blend together and I’ll miss out on something.
Still, I have to say the most important reason, at least for me, is that I just enjoy the hell out of it.