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Tragedy & Upheaval Soundtracks: Free to a Good Home

February 10, 2010
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Scrolling through my iTunes list this morning (2794 items, 7.6 days), I noticed for far from the first time how many songs and full albums are in there that I not merely never choose to listen to but actually actively refuse to listen to. If I’ve got iTunes or my iPod set to shuffle and one of these tracks starts playing, I skip past it immediately. Do other people have this problem, a stack of perfectly good music they can’t stand anymore? I took an aesthetics class years and years and yeeeeears ago and I should have asked my professor about this phenomenon but in those days I never spoke in class and anyway I was always too busy sitting there being completely fucking mystified as to what the fuck I was doing in a fucking aesthetics class. “Listen to this song and write a description of how you feel as you listen.” I tried to take it seriously for a few weeks but some situations are just inherently ridiculous and around mid-semester I started writing “enraged” every time.

There’s no logic to it; I can’t listen to anything from Beck’s Sea Change because the gods made a huge fucking mistake a week after I bought it in the fall of 2002, but I bought another album at the same time and it’s never bothered me. The same goes for the pile of CDs I bought in 2005-06: I doubt I’ll ever be able to listen to anything from Sarah Harmer’s All of Our Names without experiencing immensely unpleasant flashbacks and immediately being overwhelmed with a desire to smash all the glassware within viewing distance (that’s quite a mental image, an enraged elf maiden breaking cups and vases to the delicate harmless gentle Canadian acoustic strummings of Sarah Harmer), and despite my deep and abiding fondness for the artist I always skip past tracks from Cat Power’s Dear Sir, and my Juliana Hatfield greatest hits album is such aural anathema to me that I’ve never even downloaded it into iTunes. As if it’s these musicians’ fault that I bought their music while having a psychiatric breakdown in a foreign country. (Note to self: try to figure out why you giggle like a schoolchild every time you type the phrase “psychiatric breakdown.” It’s hilarious, but it really that hilarious?) Fortunately, Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender has never affected me emotionally adversely, it still works like it’s supposed to, even though, of all the albums I bought that year, that was the one that should have become the most unlistenable of them all, logically and situationally speaking. None of this is musically speaking. It’s nothing to do with the music.

I can feel the same thing trying to happen with the albums I bought in December and January, excellent music without exception, nothing wrong with my iTunes shopping skills and/or skillz, but this is how it happens, I buy songs to provide distraction and comfort and then a few weeks or months down the road they start handing me all the emotions I bought them to keep at bay so I could accomplish some impossible thing; e.g. let’s say a pamphlet about summer publishing workshops was mostly randomly dropped on my desk at work almost exactly a year ago, I signed up for some, I flew to Vancouver four months later, during a break at one of the workshops I overheard a conversation about a writing program, I immediately decided to apply to it, three months later I put together 20 pages of prose and poetry, I got accepted, I packed all my stuff, I quit my job, I gave up my apartment, I said goodbye to my best friends, I shoved my cat into a cat suitcase, I went back to Vancouver, for realsies this time. (What got me here? Obviously: a plane and a parataxis.) (Don’t hate on the Greek rhetoric pun, nonclassicists. Don’t hate. You can see that it’s funny even if you can’t see exactly why.)

MGMT and Hey Rosetta, I suspect your days are numbered, as great as you are you’re already starting to grate on me, but meanwhile in the meantime my friends we can still walk up the hill to the bus stop together. Let’s not rush the inevitable.

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