Listening to Music

I love music, and I have loved it for as long as I can remember. I love to listen to it and I love to play it. It is very easy to grow numb to life’s inherent beauty and mystery and to be distracted by petty annoyances. Good music is one of the few consistent places to take refuge from that. However I realized recently that I very rarely listen to music.

When our forebears picked up the guitar there was very little music to be heard. Before the 1930s, no one owned recordings of music save a few sound engineers. All that existed were fleeting live performances. Even through most of the 20th century a kid growing up could go to a few concerts and listen to records that he bought with his hard-earned money.

But a kid growing up today is an entirely different story. Between YouTube, Spotify, and vast catalogs of (frequently free) MP3s, music has become something that is always available, wherever one happens to be. The same is true for us grown-ups and, though this should be a blessing, it has led to us valuing music less than we used to.

I realized that I am always listening to music and surfing the internet, listening to music and driving, listening to music and playing video games. It’s always listening to music and…fill in the blank. But I have the opportunity now to listen to more, better music than at any point in the history of mankind! No king through all of history had access to more music than I do today.

The problem is that now we take it for granted. Because we can always listen to anything we want at any time of the day, music loses its magic.¬†Music has become tap water. You turn on the faucet and nearly-free, clean, life-giving water comes out. How often do we give thanks for that simple fact? Rarely, if at all. It has become our default. And yet without it, most of us would be dead pretty quickly. The loss of music wouldn’t necessarily kill us, but then it might. And it would certainly leave us soulless.

So I have made a resolution to listen to one album¬†(at least!) a week. I lay on my bed or the floor and put on a pair of headphones and listen to an album from start to finish. Sometimes it’s something new, but frequently it is something I have heard before. But when I’m not doing anything else and I’m just right there with the music, my old favorite albums always sound new.

Music has become the background of our lives. Music has become Muzak. The song Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin was in Cadillac commercials awhile back, and I’ve been hearing Beatles songs in a bunch of commercials lately. This is a shame. Music should not be associated with a product. It should not be something that is done solely for profit. And it should not serve as mere background noise to other activities.

Because, as a musician myself, if I never truly listen to music, how in the world am I supposed to create it? And, as a human being, if I never truly listen to music, then what the hell is the point of being a human at all?