#7: Spotify’s effect on my [in]ability to think of all the songs that I usually have stuck in my head, or How Music No Longer Means Anything

The drama of the title is amazing. And by amazing, I mean melodramatic. And by melodramatic, I mean it’s been a while since I did an update.

Just to create the proper atmosphere currently occurring during this typing: I’m listening to Everclear’s song ‘Santa Monica.’

As a composition instructor, I have had the pleasure of engaging in conversations with my students that involve things like them calling LPs ‘giant black CDs;’ not knowing what the movie Pulp Fiction is; [just moved on to Sneaker Pimps’ ‘6 Underground] and, most of all, their lack of interest in albums or musicians–their entire concept of music is shaped by individual songs. Should they become interested in a song, they will then procure more songs, not an album or albums, just more songs. In the end, it may end up composing a complete album, but that is merely a byproduct created out of enjoying an individual piece. I don’t believe anything in this paragraph is revelatory; what I am interested in, however, is trying to understand what it means, as a person sitting somewhere listening to something, to have such a profound difference in what is being heard. Because, psychologically, my students and I hear completely different from one another. And, as such, we will never communicate as successfully as I do with people of my own age group. It’s impossible because we don’t hear the same way [music update: they have Hepcat. Fucking seriously. I’m listening to Hepcat.]

What exactly does it mean to listen to music, to be a fan? Or are those two different questions? Obviously, to listen to music is to hit play on some form of music and allow the sounds to enter in your ears. But music fans never consider that listening. Basically, being a music fan is the conversation Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson have in White Men Can’t Jump about Jimi Hendrix and being able to hear what Jimi is saying. Woody could not because he couldn’t dunk. Or something along those lines. Highly important sidenote tangent: Snipes is a terrible basketball player in that movie. I know he’s supposed to be awesome and smooth or whatever, but, seriously, have you ever watched it? He can’t dribble. At all. They had to have edited all over the damn place from him screwing up while dribbling the ball. And I know one point of the movie is that Woody takes jump shots and Wesley doesn’t, but there’s no way a guy who couldn’t handle the rock with any care whatsoever would be able to shoot either. Was there really no other actor who could dribble at least? In an actual one-on-one game between those two at that exact time, I’m putting all my money down on Woody, easily.

Anyway, [Skankin’ Pickle!] this is taking way too long to get to whatever point I think I’m trying to get to.

Let’s assume the following: You have some version of a favorite song, favorite album, and favorite band. Now consider how those things interrelate. They may all involve the same band; they may all involve the same album; they may all be wildly different. What matters, however, is that one’s ability to discern such choices comes from the fact that in some capacity you have considered what it is that you like to the degree that you have filtered out all other choices. Now consider my composition students: in general, they have no need for such filtering to occur. Everything is available to them simply because everything is available to them. Their ability to discern what they like from what they don’t doesn’t have to be nearly as rigid; while it may be, it never has to be because at their fingertips is anything, any band, singer, rapper, whatever, that they can imagine. For them, their is no true earworm because an earworm, to me, has always implied a song that gets stuck in your head without relief; today, relief is as immediate as whatever smartphone one has. What this means is that the relationship with music is evolving; it is now an immediate thing, and, therefore, it no longer has depth but width. Its expansiveness allows people to obtain and enjoy (or not enjoy) a mind-boggling amount of musical choices. Should I, for whatever reason, decide that I really need to hear a theme song from some Bollywood movie, it can be done. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done. However, my relationship with that song may only last through the moment of first playing it simply because the ability to obtain it made it far easier to ‘experience,’ as in, ‘enjoy.’ Having an almost infinite amount of culture available means something incredible: we are all more aware of the world, but we are not necessarily aware of our awareness. [now playing: Old 97’s ’19,’ theme song of the summer I turned 20. I’m way original.]

Now reconsider your favorites: in what way did they become your favorites–I’m speaking ‘culturally.’ Formation of what you like has a great dependence on where you grew up with, who you grew up with, how you reacted to that. Such favorites become localized because of this cultural context. That is why you’re able to develop depth with them: without such a context, they no longer have the significance that has been ingrained in you as you grew up. With music, and culture in general, now having far more width than depth, people are, I suppose figuratively but nearly literally, being stretched in a multitude of directions. Such stretching means any person is capable of knowing a little bit of lots, but not necessarily lots of a little, which, according to any one with intelligence, is the surest way to inappropriate arrogance. Those who know a little often assume they know more than they actually do, as compared to people who know lots of something specific are aware that there is always something more to learn (I’m pretty sure I read something about this on cracked.com. Feel free to look it up yourself [the irony, the irony]).

What this means, I think, is that music no longer has any significance other than for people who demand it has significance. If that makes any sense. It’s that ‘demand’ that separates how I hear from how my composition students hear. As we listen, we mentally perform different tasks: I interpret it in terms of where it ranks according to a highly hierarchical system; they, as a generalization, rank it according to a far more fluid scale of ‘liking.’ As such, I will always assume they aren’t listening to the music, much like how I assume they never listened to me in class. So, like New Found Glory sings, I tip my glass to you.

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