Pop Culture
May 07, 2013, 05:30AM

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

A pronounced silence.

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No one ever asks, but there's a reason that I don't write about music as much as I used to: the universe simply will not allow me to. No, really, this is something that's bigger than me, it's simply beyond my influence or ability to control the reality of the situation. Back in the early aughts when I was angling to become a Village Voice Pazz & Jop voter, then-music editor Chuck Eddy identified the threshold for participation: voters had to listen to at least 80 albums per annum. I doubt I'm even in that neighborhood now. So many promos don't receive even a cursory spin. So many hot singles or new acts are not granted a first look. So many tough-nut-to-crack art-rock touchstones are perused just once. I quit thinking of myself as a music critic some time ago; now I'm a mere hobbyist, a chancer fanatical about particular artists with a waning interest in the bigger picture, the zeitgeist, What It All Means. Increasingly, house, techno, and their variants turn me on, but I'm happier playing the dabbling tourist than trying to arrange an academic or working context for how the artists and sub-genres relate to one another; I've no interest in over-thinking this. Noise, drone, and the experimental are still exciting; I'm back and forth on pretty much everything else, up and down.

Work is partially to blame. The days when I could spend eight hours per day cycling from album to album are long gone. Whether via telephone calls, walk-ups, e-mails, or IMs, I'm accosted every 15 or 30 minutes, so it's pretty much impossible to devote real attention to anything, and once the interruption is addressed, the discombobulation is significant enough that it takes a while to realize that I was listening to anything in the first place. Otherwise I'm in meetings, or reminding people of things in person.

The nature of my day is such that I no longer take proper lunches. Entire weekdays pass by in which I don't really listen to music at my job in a critical way—only driving there in the morning, or during the two hours I allot at the end of the day for writing, before bed. (The drive home is dedicated to pop and/or NPR and/or phone calls to my parents.) There is less of a tendency to re-visit catalogue items, for fun or strategic purposes. For instance, a message board that I'm part of is hosting a Sonic Youth Tracks Poll right now. Because I'm getting ready to move and my SY albums are packed, my participation will be kinda half-assed—skimming YouTube videos, consulting track lists on Wikipedia, raiding personal memory banks that feel less powerful with each passing day—but even if I wasn't moving, I'd be hard-pressed to find the time to re-experience even a fifth of that mammoth discography; just thinking about it is reigniting a headache I thought was fading.

What I mostly listen to, now, is the sound of life: inanities and spiels and cajoling and birds and engines. Laughter and gusts of wind, lines of dialogue, ring tones, my son relating a story that is half-truth, other people's heart-to-hearts. Or silence, huge and cavernous and imposing. Because I could fill that silence with music I did. It made so much of life's underlying sadness easier to bear, and made me feel safe, and gave me a platform to focus my creative energies in ways that have been rewarding. I still need it, and I still miss it, and a great song or album can still turn a terrible day the other way round every now and again; I'm still pitching and filing copy. But what music and I have is hardly a love affair now, and there's an emptiness in knowing that romance will likely never be rekindled. The silence is winning.


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