Monday, March 20, 2017

The Music Experience: SPAZ writes about the joys of being a music geek...

    Listening To Music...
(Originally written and posted in August 2013 on the New Wave Junkie blog)
Many years ago, I started this journey...  it started most likely as an infant or toddler, hearing the music my parents would play.  Anything from Frank Sinatra to Buddy Holly to The Beatles.... Mentally going through their record collection (which doesn't exist anymore, unless its boxed up in the garage), I remember so many different types of things they listened to.  Easy Listening, Rock, Pop, Folk, R&B... so much that I remember seeing as I would dig through their stacks of 45s and LPs over and over again...  While my older sister Dana liked music, it was really my brother Mike and I who lived for it.  My folks always used to tell us that they could put us in front of the TV when The Monkees was on and know that we'd stay put for 30 minutes until the show was over.  And this is when it first aired in 1966 (I was 3, my bro was 4). I remember loving The Monkees at that young age and even having the Monkees hand puppet.  We also had a Herman Munster doll, too.  We weren't spoiled but they knew what we loved....

     I really found my own way in '77 when Punk and New Wave took hold. I remember buying LPs, riding my bike home (or walking) from Licorice Pizza, slipping the headphones on, putting the needle down on the record and just getting lost in the music. I used to sit on my bed with my back against the wall, knees in the air with the LP cover and inner sleeve propped up in my lap.  Even though I knew every inch of that album cover, all the credits and the lyrics to the songs, I'd go through that same ritual every day.  For hours sometimes.  I'd play the music so loud that I'd see the lights flicker in the room, look up and there would be my mom or dad (or siblings) standing in the doorway, waving their hands in the air, trying to get my attention. I'd quickly pull the headphones off to see what they wanted.  Of course, whoever it was always had to make a comment about how I listened to the music too loud before they'd tell me what they wanted (it was either dinner time or I forgot to do a chore or something).  But as soon as I was back in my room, I'd slip on the headphones again, put the needle back down on the record and be transported back to wherever I was before...

     The first time I would spin a new album, it always had to be a solo experience under a set of headphones.  That first time, I didn't want to listen with a girlfriend/wife, family member or friend.  I wanted to devote all of my attention to that album, which is one of the reasons I would turn it up so loud - I wanted to block everything else out.  That first initial listen was MY time.  I didn't want to play it out of the speakers nor did I want to hear the album while I was shopping (or working) in a record store. If it did get played, I'd purposely tune it out and not try to take any of it in.  No, I wanted to 'experience' the album on my own.  I didn't care if it was an old Tom Jones album or a new Undertones album - I wanted to BE one with the album and understand it.  To some, a record was a collection of 12 tracks but for me, it was a whole piece of art divided into 12 movements. And I would eventually dissect that artistic statement and decide which parts I liked and which parts I didn't. Sometimes, a song would take quite a few spins before it began to sink in.  The sign of a great album is one that has a different favorite moment each time you listen to it.  

     The LP cover was part of that experience as well. One of the big thrills was taking the wrapper off that album and inhaling the glorious smell that had been trapped within the album sleeve and finally released once I broke the seal.  I was always disappointed if there was just a stock inner sleeve and nothing special like lyrics, pictures, liner notes, whatever...  But it's not like that ruined my experience! I would often get lucky and find a UK version of an album that had a slim cardboard inner sleeve, which was far more sturdy than the paper ones on U.S. pressings. Besides, the UK pressings might have a glossier cover than it's American counterpart and THAT was also a nice bonus - especially if you were paying a little more for the import copy!

     When you hear something that moves you, it gives you goosebumps but not in an R.L. Stine kind of way. It's almost electrical... and definitely magical.  It reaches right down to your soul and captures you, enthralls you, entertains you.  It could be the way the harmonies float above the music or it could be an unexpected chord change.  Be it a gorgeous piece of classical music or raw and dirty Punk Rock, it is going to do something to you - something with you - that you don't expect.  Music is interactive and encourages you to react in some way.  It will make you think... make you cry... make you dance... make you do something.  If it doesn't, then you are not connecting to it. But wait for the chorus... or the next track... or the next album.  Something is bound to touch you.  That is why we have such vivid memories of the first time we heard a particular song or album.  If you connected to it, then it will always bring those memories flooding back.  Personally, I can throw on some track from the '80s and it brings me back to great days with friends, record shopping and discovering new music.  I can hear a song from the '70s and I'm back spending a summer's day at the beach with my mom and siblings. Memories are faded pictures if I try to recall them without a musical signpost... but once I hear that music, those memories suddenly become vibrant 3D movies and I can often times picture the most minute details...   

     People who don't connect with music don't understand the passion that many of us have.  Its an affliction, it's an addiction, it's a habit... and it's love.  Music doesn't talk back to you, but it does talk TO you.  Music doesn't break your heart, but it can be heart-breaking. Music is life and life is music.  It's that simple, really.  There's nothing pretentious about it, nothing sinister and nothing wrong with it.  Music connects to people emotionally and it's up to them to decide how deep they want that 'relationship' to go.  If you grew up buying records, tapes or CDs to listen to your music, then that connection is deeper than someone who has only known downloading (legal or illegal).  Those who bought physical, tangible product made an effort to do so: travel to the record store, searched around for whatever it is you wanted to buy, came home, threw it on the turntable, put on your headphones or cranked up your speakers and played it.  Unfortunately, those who download don't have a piece of product in their hands.  They click on a button, wait a few moments and then play it.  This lack of 'commitment' takes away from the experience and the listener doesn't always feel the 'worth' of the songs they are listening to. There's certainly nothing wrong with buying downloads and many of my friends do that nowadays, but at least they appreciate what  it used to be like.  The download generation does not.  And don't get me started on streaming, a platform that I barely tolerate.  Sometimes, it's necessary but again, there's no commitment from the listener. Just click and play.  Where's the fun in that?

     But in the end, my opinion about what you listen to and where and how you get your music is invalid. What matters is what it does to you. If it moves and inspires you, THAT is what matters. Now, go and listen to some music and let it overcome and overwhelm you.  

Keep on truckin'
Stephen SPAZ Schnee  


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Blake said...

I like the part where you talk about traveling to the record store, etc. I rode my bike to Tower Records in Fresno (either from Hoover High up the street a block or two...or all the way from home...ok, that's 4-and-a-half miles or so). I would have just over 4 bucks in my pocket, and I'd have to weigh carefully which wonderful bit of magic vinyl I was going to get--there were always 2 or 3 I wanted...and I'd have to decide which one I could get now, and which one I'd have to wait a week or two to get----whew. Made the music that much more valuable to me. ---I did have headphones, but usually didn't use those until night-time when maybe my parents would object to the volume. My first-time-listens were usually through the (crap) speakers...maybe along with a comic book, or as you wrote....studying the liner notes. Thanks for this. Brought back those times.