It is difficult to write about music. Just like it is difficult to write about love.
You either resort to clichés, or universal truths, or fumble with some personalised truth that can only ever come out awkwardly, if at all. No wonder sex scenes are notorious in literature for being badly written most of the time. It is safer to cut to the morning after.
I listen to music all the time. Even my dreams have soundtracks. I was out in the blistering sun all day yesterday, only to come back home and vomit, with Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” playing at the back of my mind. Not that I am calling the song vomit-inducing. Au contraire, it helped me centre myself enough to not puke in the crowded bus with kids and their potentially angry mothers all around me as I was heading home. The memory of the track distracted and engaged me enough to maintain propriety despite a disagreeable stomach.
Normally, I always have something playing. Even if I didn’t, I live in such a place where it is difficult to escape music. If anything, there are three or four types of music playing at any given time that are discordant to each other. But, you get so biologically attuned to it, having experienced it from birth, that you even learn much of it subliminally. There is so much music that I have had to listen to all my life of which I couldn’t name a single personnel – composer, singer etc – but, I just know how it goes. Even if I don’t like it. Even if I have complained all my life about it. When you get conditioned like this, you feel that bad music is better than no music.
I’ve tried the ‘no music’ thing too. Meditation CDs. What’s the logic behind them? I can never focus on what they tell me to do, because I’m too busy with the background music. I have a Western classical one, and Mozart Serenade No. 10 was not what I expected to hear at 5 am! How am I supposed to become aware of who I am by forgetting who I am when I’m too busy being moved by Mozart?
Some of you may know about my abhorrence of headphones. I once got told off by a neighbour for listening to music with headphones while walking down the street one morning. And that is all it took for me to give up doing it. But, prior to that, at a difficult period of time, I subsisted on taking The Beatles medicinally as much as I could when I was outside, especially their track “I Feel Fine”.
And then, there’s muzak. I was at a mall yesterday when I heard distant notes of David Bowie’s “Modern Love”. I ran to look for it, leaving my food at the table, until I listened to what seemed like a really bad cover of it. Once, I almost had an accident while getting into a lift, as I was paralysed by Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday”. My strangest experience with muzak was listening to The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, one of my favourite tracks ever, sandwiched between an otherwise headache-inducing playlist of lounge music. The surprise, coupled by my already deep reverence for the track, compelled me to go looking for whoever made that playlist. Would have been a great romantic story of sorts, but the song had ended long before I could figure out who to approach. The moment was gone, normality was back, the dream sparked by The Ronettes was no more.
There isn’t much point talking about music in concerts, clubs, parties etcetera in this essay, because that is talked about anyway, and listening to music is what you are expected to do in those situations, even if a lot of the music playing may neither be to your taste nor your volition. I will, however, talk about one common activity when it comes to listening to music – music that you put on for yourself. You know you’re a full-grown adult when most of your personal music listening happens simultaneously with doing chores. I’ve been spring cleaning. The music has been brilliant, the cleaning not. I listen to David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane as I clean shelves, to camouflage the dirt and the tedium with grammatically correct awesomeness. I move to Kate Bush’s “Moving”, mime flexing biceps to her “Them Heavy People”, sing along in my wannabe-Kate Bush voice to the line “hi-i-igh as a kite” from her cover of “Rocket Man”, only to come back to Earth, to reality, to doing dishes. Sure, music makes life rapture of the highest order, but, sometimes, we forget that it also makes it plain bearable.
I sing a lot, all the time, much to the annoyance of anyone around me, as if I was Mary Poppins or Maria, but that is a subject for another post. Today, I am just grateful to Amy Winehouse for saving me from vomiting dangerously close to kids, and thus, saving me from the ire of their mothers.
What are your “plain” music-listening habits?