R’n’r Confessional: Death by Electronics

My iPod and eMusic account are conspiring to slowly kill me.  So far, they’re winning.
When I drive around with my iPod, I’ve got 30 gigs of music at my disposal.  If I feel like listening to, say, Akron/Family’s new record, it’s at my fingertips immediately.  If I want to switch to Hank Williams halfway through the second track, I can do that, too.
The subscription music service eMusic allows me to download the catalogs of nearly every indie label in the country.  With my plan, I get 30 downloads a month for ten dollars.  The best part?  Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s lengthy records only count as three to four tracks due to their formatting, leaving me enough tracks left over to get both the new Jens Lekman and the National’s early EPs.
But is all of this good?  People have already studied the effects of pervasive technology and availability on our social skills (hint: it’s not looking good), but I’m more interested in what it does to our ability to appreciate music.  Because that’s the appeal of these services after all: more music means more enjoyment, right?
Not necessarily. I’ve noticed over the past few months that I’ve been listening to far less music than I ever have before.  I’ve got plenty of it; I’m surrounded by new music.  But I’m not paying attention to a bit of it.  In my quest to appreciate every new record and every style of music, I’ve spread myself so thin that I can’t appreciate any of it.
Do we really need all of this?  I’m aware of how strange that might sound, seeing as how my job is to convince you to buy records and all.  But the ability to be engulfed in song from the moment I wake up until classes begin has drained all of the soul from my listening.  I’m no longer engaged by Sufjan Stevens or Sigur Rós, both of whom have always gripped me.  I find myself staring into space while I drive, not paying any mind to the words coming out of Bob Dylan’s mouth.
The thing is, when we try to do too much, we fall apart.  We cease to appreciate the world around us because we’re perpetually searching for something better.  And I think that that’s really the issue here.  I’m never content with what I’m listening to; there’s always gonna be a better song, and it’s up to me to find it.
There’s this spiritual conceit that the world around us is so rife with desire and distraction that we should escape into ourselves in search of true peace.  And while I don’t doubt that we may successfully block out the world, I have to wonder what the point would be.  If we’re not engaged with the world around us, are we truly alive?  Because it’s our surroundings, the chance encounters and accidental conversations, which sustain us and keep life interesting.  We become alive at the very moment that we realize that we can’t control everything that happens.  But this is exactly what we’re doing when we bury ourselves in sound; we’re effectively shutting out the rest of the world and any chance at real life.
Is this all a bit ridiculous?  Yeah, probably so.  But do me a favor before you write in and call me old fashioned.  Take all of the CDs out of your car, and leave your iPod in your bag.  Drive around with one copy of one record, and don’t listen to anything else.  Listen to that record, and listen to what the singer is saying, and listen to how closely the music and the song structure mimic what he’s singing about and how it all comes together.  Take one good record and drink deeply from it, and let the world make a little bit more sense.


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