Wednesday, October 26, 2016

On (My) Music: A Project, an Inspiration

Here, my right hand massages the lobe for music appreciation…
Like a lot of people of a certain age, I have compiled my share of music collections. I’ve lost and gained them by way of break-ups (typical), cross-country moves (perhaps less typical), and just plain negligence (drunk?). There are songs, and entire bands, I can only remember when someone asks me, “hey, remember those guys?” And even then, I can’t always find them (e.g. Big Chief’s “Start at the Top,” which, across three albums (damn…they have them?) Spotify can’t find either. More on that software later.

When it became possible to save more music than I thought I’d ever own on my computer, I did that. The result is 214 + 47 folders across two entirely practically divided sets*, most of them containing folders within those folders, and all of them containing a lifetime’s worth of not just music, but interests and memories. Building and maintaining all that took about two years. And then along came Spotify.

I resisted Spotify, and for quite a while, for reasons both ideological and self-serving. Even now, as I look forward to my Discover Weekly playlist each and every week, it still feels like some experience has been lost. Or maybe it’s just the old Protestant mind-fuck needing to do work (or just to suffer) before anything registers as worthwhile. Regardless, by way of algorithms and convenience, Spotify can give me something close to what I want each and every week, whether by feeding it to me via Discover, or just by allowing me to search an actual universe of music.

Since getting Spotify just two months ago, I have compiled a secondary library of 80 songs, minimum, several of them that I just flat-out love, and with the giddiness of a new fling. The one anxiety I can’t escape is the notion that there’s some ur-song out there, some end of the rainbow iteration of what I like in music that Spotify will pinpoint and feed me over and over again, and that I’ll love it so much and so unconsciously that it’ll satisfy the “music lobe” thing in my lizard brain, and I’ll hear what old people’s brains have told them since the beginning of time – e.g., it all sounds the same and that the stuff of one’s youth is better, so why bother with that new-fangled __________? (aka, is Justin Bieber the end of music?)

Part of that grows from not being totally clear on how to get what I want out of Spotify’s algorithm. I spent a full week listening to and saving nothing but hip-hop in an attempt to say to the algorithm, “yo, a little variety over here!” The next playlist sounded pretty much like the one that came before (well, it cleared up jam-band hell, so there’s that). No hip hop, though, and that only made me more worried about thewhole “Ur-Song Trap.”

All the above informs the highly-self-indulgent project on which I’m about to embark (and, unlike all the ones prior, I hope to complete). Before Spotify buries me under complacency (and it’s coming; I’m not even sort of sick September’s playlist; also, October playlist), I want to march through each and every one of those folders and to listen to all the songs I took the time to save and curate. I’m not quite sure what I’ll say about each of them, even as I know exactly what I want to say about the first of them (Wu-Tang Clan/mostly self-flagellation).

If your response to this is, “why?” I don’t have a good answer. When I first thought of doing this, it was intended as part of the project of learning about American popular music. Think of it as the process of looking carefully at the stuff I do like (as demonstrated by seeking it out and keeping it), and thinking about why I like it. I guess my thought is that it’d be neat to know where what I like comes from. I’d also like to believe that thinking about this stuff and writing about it might work as any “memoir” would – i.e., the way someone talks about their experience often makes you reflect on your own experience. In other words, I want people to enjoy it. Or, even better, to relate to it in some way.

Eh, that’s probably an excuse. The thrust of this part of the music project comprises the full and complete inspiration for starting this blog (title above) and killing the old one (the “Once a Day” thing; #RIP). Because, picking through your own music library? Pretty goddamn self-indulgent. Still, I’m starting it and will continue it for as long as it looks like anyone but me gives a shit about it. And I’m working on how to layer the other music stuff into the site as well. What the hell, y’know? Gives me something to do…

…now I just need to come up with a name for the project. Anyway, look for the first/Wu Tang edition later today, or maybe tomorrow.

[* For the curious, those 47 folders include stuff that my computer will no longer play through Windows Media Player. I think it’s down to copyright, but all of those files (well, most of ‘em) were acquired and uploaded legally. Still, I can’t play ‘em, so I keep ‘em in a separate file. Good story, yeah?]

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