While engaging in the never-ending habit of perusing my archives, I stumbled upon an old copy of “Love Devotion Surrender” by Carlos Santana and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. It’s a record I haven’t picked up in decades. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with the desire to listen to it again.
It was not just an urge to play some old music and trigger some fond memories. It was the need to deeply listen in the same manner I allow a Beethoven sonata to engulf the mind. Although the intent was not to indulge in nostalgia, long lost memories of listening to a taped copy of the album in the car appeared. Visions of gliding westward on the Junipero Serra Freeway towards Palo Alto and San Francisco filled my mind.
It was my go-to album of choice during the winter of 1973-74. Each and every passage was digested and processed. At home, I played it through the stereo headphones in order to pick up every nuance of the instruments and the vocals. I knew where every tick and pop was located on each track of the LP. Upon hearing the record yesterday, I anticipated and noted most of those same flaws.
It was during the winter of ’73/’74 that I finally realized that each person has a way of listening to music, speech, ambient sounds, and nature in his or her unique way. Each of us has a personalized pattern of listening that is as unique as our fingerprints. When we pay attention to what we hear and how we listen, we can understand our inner workings a little bit better.
It’s interesting to pay attention to what kinds of music our family and friends love to hear. What musicians do they like who you also like? What musicians do they like who you don’t enjoy? Also, which musicians do you enjoy who your friends couldn’t care less about?
In 1974, my pals and I enjoyed a great many of the same artists. My crowd loved Pink Floyd and the Beatles. I did not share their love for The Grateful Dead. No matter how much I pleaded with them, they refused to listen to the Santana-Mahavishnu album. It’s the same today when I bring up the subject of electronica and trying to get friends to at least listen to something by Jean-Michel Jarre. Their musical “fingerprints” simply don’t mesh with the music.
Each of us processes our culture in different ways. How do our attitudes, beliefs, expectations, language, and intentions manifest in our mental states? Why does Metallica sound excellent to some and terrible to me? Why do people have strong opinions about certain bands and musicians? Why do some people live for popular music but won’t go near classical pieces? Why do I sometimes love to hear Disco?
We can analyze musical tastes all we want, but in the end, music touches us in very personal, special ways. It’s odd that we label our musical preferences as taste. Some of us love the flavor of pumpkin pie yet someone else might loathe the stuff. There seems to be no rational reason for this state of affairs. We deeply know what we love, then we pursue ways to acquire more of it. It’s a basic behavior pattern we share with other animal species. When I want to indulge in Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony”, it becomes an obsession. I don’t want to eat or drink or even think. I just want to listen to every sublime moment.
An acquaintance not only does not enjoy classical music, she cannot stand to hear any sort of music at all. No amount of music appreciation courses will change her mind. When music of any sort comes on, she changes channels or switches off the radio. This business of not enjoying any type of music remains a mystery to me.
While pondering this puzzle, I’m going to switch on the player and select “shuffle play” and enjoy whatever happens to come up.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a thought from musician Brian Eno. “Musicians are there in front of you, and the spectators sense their tension, which is not the case when you’re listening to a record. Your attention is more relaxed. The emotional aspect is more important in live music.”