Revisiting Old Places, or Lessons From My Music Collection

I’ve just finished. A self-satisfied glow of smugness arranges itself all over my aura. I burst over the finish line with a flurry of productivity and the appropriate adrenaline rush of satisfaction at a target reached.

It wasn’t quite like that, truth be told.

Just over a year ago I, for reasons I won’t bore you with, managed to delete my entire music collection from my computer. If you played every song back-to-back without break that would be about 16 days’ worth of aural accompaniment.

Fear not, dear reader, for I rescued the situation. In the process of doing so I discovered all sorts of music I’d forgotten I owned.

I became aware that my listening habits had shrunk to the most recently purchased.

So I Had An Idea.

I decided I’d listen to it.

All of it.

In what order?

A to Z, by album title seemed the way to go. I’d include single songs; but not any recorded worship music of the type you sing in some churches as, frankly, I don’t enjoy it enough to do that to myself. I’d also omit compilation albums I’d got free with magazines. This was for the simple reason that I’ve got about a gazillion of those so I figured that if this was to be realistic I needed to make that decision. I also skipped on anything you may term ‘classical’ music for the entirely fair reason that I don’t own any.

I pompously developed my own social media hashtag for the purpose and format for the tweets relating that to which I was listening at any given time. Thus:

achtung baby – u2 #atozalbums

All lower case was important.

Like I said it’s only taken a year or so; confused by what I do with new music bought which by the alphabetical format should have come earlier in the project. All sorts of similar problems presented themselves. On I struggled, making up the rules as I went along. My game, my rules.

At the end of the project I’m now considering what I could do next – with music, with movies, with … anything I enjoy, really. All suggestions welcome.

While I’m here, a selection (in no special order) of Very Important Life Lessons I’ve gleaned from this.

1) I still don’t feel a vast need to get into ‘classical’ music. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just not my thing, really. I speak other musical languages. No, I’m not a philistine. If you really think this makes me culturally ignorant or stupid then let’s have a conversation about Shakespeare or the Victorian novel or Marlowe or Donne or Coupland or Milton and see if you still hold that opinion at the end.

2) I was strangely reminded of all the music I’d given away/thrown away/sold/lost over the years. The first CD I bought was the soundtrack to Back To The Future. I have no idea where that is now, and I didn’t put it on my laptop at any stage. Then there’s some Prince albums. Where have they gone?

3) Even some music that I might be slightly embarrassed to admit to owning I still quite enjoy. All Saints, I’m thinking of you. Among others.

4) If you’d have told me 10 years ago that I’d be into some of the hip-hop or folk I now like then I’d never have believed you.

5) As with ‘classical’ music (see point 1) so with other greats like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones and so many others. I can recognise greatness but still not enjoy it enough to buy it or listen to it often. Enjoying something and acknowledging greatness are two very different things and that’s OK with me. There’s some ‘holes’ in my collection I have no intention of filling.

6) I really enjoyed this. So what else, in the dark recesses of my own soul, might I have forgotten I enjoy but pushed down to give attention to the new and the urgent and the demanding? Acting. There’s one I really need to give some thought to. Silent prayer is another.

7) As with point 3, there may be some stuff in me I’m faintly embarrassed by but actually that’s OK too. I don’t have to impress anyone with what I’m into as long as it’s not damaging me or another person.

8) Why is ‘Christian music’ SO unimaginative? Why do these bands keep impersonating U2 and Coldplay? I like those 2 bands quite a lot, but I also like Kanye West and R.E.M. and Radiohead and Faithless and Manic Street Preachers and so much more. So … you know, don’t get stuck! Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins puts it really well in this short little clip.

9) Doing this bought back some fantastic memories of when I first heard certain albums (e.g. I stopped everything I was doing when I first heard Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’,  lay on the bed and cried at the beauty of it), or gigs I went to (e.g. Radiohead again, the guy in front of us threatening to punch me and my mate Mark for jumping up and down).

10) Here’s one for you. Try something similar. It needn’t be music, it needn’t be art at all. You don’t have to blog it, tweet it, Facebook it if you don’t want to go public. Find some old books, pull out that box of letters and mementoes, have a read of something you wrote years ago, randomly look at old emails. Anything, really. How have you changed since then? In what ways are you the same? How do you respond to this now that is different to how you responded then? Are you ashamed of or embarrassed by something you have no need to be that way about? Do you need some help to think something through?

As if to prove I’m no philistine, I’ll end with some T.S. Eliot that’s haunted throughout this musical journey:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”  

(T.S. Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’, the last of his ‘4 Quartets’)

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