Someone once asked me to write an answer to this question: “Why does music matter?” And I wrote back straight away, semi-facetiously, “It doesn’t – that’s the beauty of it. Next…”
I wasn’t trying to belittle a valid question. And I was only part-joking. I often think of a great quote by one of my favourite writers, Tom Robbins. It’s been rephrased/paraphrased over the years but I first heard it from him as “the great thing about art is that it serves no purpose”. I’ve also read a different spin on it as “the most useful thing about art is its uselessness”.
There’s a lot of entitlement in the arts. A lot of people telling you they were born to play music or to write or paint – when really what they should be doing is showing you. (Isn’t the golden rule show don’t tell?)
Maybe if I knew the answer to why music mattered to me I might not be updating my site several times a day and posting on its Facebook page every 12 minutes or so.
People boasting about their artistic prowess – or their profound interest in the arts – it’s a tad boring don’t you think?
Music is a nice escape. A lovely reminder. An answer to whatever question when you’re lost for words. It’s a new world, another language, it’s augmentation, distraction, abstraction.
Music’s always been in my life. At least I (like to) think it has been.
I’m very aware watching my son Oscar. Amazing when he was 15-24 months in particular. Able to demand things – with language and gesture. But not able to articulate fully what he would want. There was strop. And strut. And he could make everything seem wonderful, he certainly made it seem as though nothing else mattered. And I watched him to see his interest in music – convincing myself that I was not forcing it on him. Okay, okay, he didn’t just arrive at The Beatles by himself. But he made them part of his routine once he’d heard them. And in seeing how he interacts/reacts with/to music I can’t help but wonder how I acted. I have parents who love music. They set me off on this path. They’re probably a bit appalled by that now – especially when it gets to talking about careers; then to settling on – and around – ideals. But hey, they were always playing music – as far as I know. They probably had that stage where they couldn’t afford records. And when the records were locked away. Oscar’s five now and music is different for him, to him. He’s focused on ‘Kids’ music a lot more, cartoon soundtracks, film soundtracks, nursery rhyme-nonsense but he’ll always react to music. He still has his little jags – Phil Collins, The Beatles, weirdly LeAnn Rimes…and currently he’s obsessed with the song, Poi-E. And that’s pretty cool. All of it is cool. All of it is allowed…it all filters in and out and through. And he’s an excellent interpretive dancer. I doubt I ever had that skill.
But as far as my memory goes back it has a soundtrack.
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Buddy Rich and Cyndi Lauper and The Animals and Santana and Miles and Coltrane and Elvis and Dylan and then Lou Reed. Wow. Lou Reed!
These – and so many other things – were game-changers. Jaw-droppers. I wrote names on my schoolbag and pencil-case. I swapped tapes and dubbed copies of the records that lived in the lounge – just so I could have my own versions. (Oscar now asks me to make him his own copy of anything I play on Spotify or iTunes – I have to burn him a disc for his bedroom stereo; he has to have that ownership. I like that. I remember that feeling).
And I’m sure on some level this isn’t all that different to your story. Maybe the names are different and some of the details. But you’re here reading a music blog so I have to assume – even though I write this blind in that sense – (hoping, after, for an audience…) that you like music; have an interest in it, have committed some part of your life to following it in some way.
A few years ago I had a new favourite time to listen to music – in the wee-smalls, in the early hours of the morning, or late-late-late at night. When Oscar was going through a phase of waking in the middle of the night I’d get up to settle him – to hang with him – at 1am or 2am or 3 or 4 or 5am. And I’m such a dick that I would scroll the iPod to something “relaxing/chilled” before going to bed; pre-empting the fact that I might have to get up. I didn’t want to be scrolling, scratchy-eyed, to find something that’s not Iron Maiden or Lyle Workman or The Breeders or Deep Purple. So I had my iPod all set before bed. I’d get it ready with The Necks or certain albums by The Cure or Miles or Coltrane or, well, you know, something cool, something good, something relaxing, soothing, something that sounds good in the middle of the night. A favourite was (and still is) Confection by Sebastien Tellier – that’s getting close to an all-time most-listened-to album now…
Lots of things sound really good in the middle of the night.
One time I was up at around 4.30/5am and for the first time in probably many years I had Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby album playing softly in the background. We were sitting in the big green chair in the lounge and it’s the best baby-cuddle in the world. At least for right then anyway. And it had its own soundtrack. Every moment in my life does. And that’s either sad or bad or it’s good – but it’s certainly something that happens. It’s how it is. So that moment has the title song from the Coney Island Baby album playing. And that’s a track I always liked. Always, as in right from when I first heard it – from about 12 years old.
And I always marveled at that mumbled-line, “man I swear I’d give the whole thing up for you”. Always, as in right from when I first heard it (from about 12 years old).
New perspectives. 5am. The baby that is your whole world and he’s finally back to sleep. And that line comes on. That’s cool. That’s the power of music. Right there.
Now I’m more likely to get up at 5am and listen, fresh, to Keith Jarrett or A Winged Victory For The Sullen or Brian Eno. Always the go-to stuff…
Some days writing all of this down is so easy, other days you’ll never know how long it took me. And mostly because I’d be embarrassed to say. But in nearly a decade of turning up daily my love of music hasn’t dwindled. It hasn’t drooped. It hasn’t dropped. It hasn’t failed. It’s a love of music that has me writing the angriest, nastiest, cruelest things. It’s that same love that has me gushing, declaring my love for all things musical/music-related – even if those posts keep getting published in that damned invisible ink!
But I swear I’d give the whole thing up in a heartbeat. Easy. If that choice had to be made. Fortunately – for now at least – it doesn’t.
Music’s been a great friend to me. It’s been one of my companions, a source of great frustration too. And that’s a good thing. A healthy thing. So music might not be important in the grand scheme of things – but it matters. It really matters. I’m sure of that.