Learning the spirit of radio

The failure to complete a music critique exercise, and the realization that it's OK.

I am a failure.

What's worse is I failed at something that I wanted to do and that was easy. An inexcusable failure. I failed to listen to one album I'd never heard every day in February and tweet about it. What I did, though, was listen to about half a month's worth of new music, tweet a little and prove to myself that there's nothing I hate more than having my listening habits dictated, even if I'm the one imposing sanctions.

The whole thing was meant to be an exercise in expanding my musical horizons. A music critic, Gary Suarez, took to Twitter and proposed a music writers exercise. Listen to one album you've never heard for every day in February and tweet about it using the #MWE.

A friend tipped me off to the project and immediately I was excited. This would be a great opportunity to listen to those classic albums I had never actually heard but always pretended to know about in conversation (Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited). And, finally, to delve into some of the recent releases I'd been meaning to check out (Sleater-Kinney's comeback No Cities To Love). I asked my friends and roommates for suggestions and compiled a list of 28 albums to which I was going to listen. This was my first mistake.

My first night I was scheduled to listen to Duke Ellington's Money Jungle, a suggestion made by my jazz-afficionado roommate. I was excited. I popped in my headphones, fired up Spotify and dove into what turned out to be one of the best experiences of the project. "Money Jungle" was fun and exciting and new to me. I was ready for day two, Stevie Wonder's Songs In the Key of Life, a favorite of a good friend and an album I'd wanted to listen to in full for years.

Day two was a success as well. I loved the album and was so glad that I listened to it.  But already I felt trapped. I felt obligated to listen. My ears were filled with Wonder, but my mind was in more of an Elliot Smith state. I felt a sense of responsibility to the albums I had chosen. I made my musical bed and now I had to lie in it.  

I chugged on through Hot Chip and Harvest and Highway 61. I heard some sounds I loved and some I hated, but I was losing steam and I began to resent the project meant to broaden me musically and make me a better writer and listener. I was becoming bitter.  

It took Titus Andronicus on day 12 of #MWE to snap me out of it. The Airing of the Grievances, Titus Andronicus' first album, was recommended to me by the same friend who told me about the project. It had been on the perifery of my taste for a long time — Titus has toured with bands I love like the So So Glos and Diarrhea Planet — but I hadn't made the time to listen. This is what #MWE was all about. The album hit me like a sonic sledgehammer. I had been shattered. I spent days listening to music — great music — that I hadn't appreciated because I was forcing myself into the songs. Here I was, finally listening to an album I should have listened to years ago and it finally made sense to me.

The Airing of the Grievances was the last album on my list that I listened to. I didn't make it through half of the shortest month of the year. But, it was an experience. I heard things I might not have otherwise made the time for, and in doing so I came to the realization that that's all right. Maybe I never listened to Dylan because I never wanted to listen to Dylan.  Maybe I'm a more well-rounded listener because I did. But I denied myself the chance to discover what that meant to me as part of a natural curiosity instead of an imposed duty.  

Sure, I would have spent that time listening to music anyway, be it the Who's "Quadrophenia" for the hundredth time or the Districts' brand new A Flourish and a Spoil. But to make music an obligation negates the emotional impact a song or a band or an album can have all on its own. 

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.