Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How I Listen to Music

I'm losing my hearing, and it sucks. It's not because I went to too many loud concerts, or spent countless hours with headphones cranked up. The doctor says that in the middle-ear of my right ear, the three little bones inside are either fusing together, or drifting apart. Only surgery (which may or may not help, or kill all hearing in that ear) would be able to expose the truth. Whichever the cause, the bones are not moving the way they should, which reduces my hearing in that ear by 70 percent - and it's getting worse. More and more I find myself asking people to repeat themselves, and it's getting frustrating to me and them. The other option beyond surgery is a hearing aid, but waddya know: insurance doesn't cover them, and they are not cheap. It's not all bad, though. I still have "normal" hearing (for my age) in my left ear - the one that does all the work these days. And if I need peace and quiet, all I have to do is lay down with my good ear on the pillow and my bad ear up, and I can't hear a damn thing.

So what does any of that have to do with the subject of this post? Well for starters, I can tell you that it makes me appreciate what I have while I have it. Listening to music is a significant aspect of my life, but how I listen to it might seem a bit strange to some readers. To me, the artist's meaning of the song usually has no bearing on the value of that song. In fact, I very rarely pay any attention to the lyrics, and often enjoy tracks without words even more (possibly explaining my gravitation to electronic music). My wife's skill at remembering lyrics back through her childhood is amazing. I can't think of one song I know every word to, but I don't care.

When I listen to music, I think I am more listening to my stirred emotions and memories more than the actual notes and chords, rhythms and layers themselves. (This coming from a guitarist and former recording studio engineer!) I'm especially not focusing on the lyrics. It doesn't matter if the artist originally intended for the song to be about death and destruction - for me it evoked feelings of persistence and self-discovery. A song written about finding love could instead be interpreted as losing it, or some other disenchantment. You see, an artist can try as hard as possible to convey his or her feelings to the observer, but invariably things transform in the transmission. The difference for me is that I don't fight it. I embrace it.

A few weeks ago I went to a reunion concert where the band consisted of old friends from my college days. It was an evening which started off as one of escape, but turned into one delivering spiritual medicine. I had been feeling at rock-bottom for so long, that I felt I needed to steal away into the night. Not to do anything bad, but to enjoy something for myself, to relax, to breathe. What I received was an infusion of musical healing. For sure, there was nostalgia at play, and hanging out with some long-lost friends was fun. But it was the music that blasted past my defenses and permeated my soul. As cheesy as that may sound, I felt awakened by the music. Energized. Healed. Open to forgiveness and reconciliation. And I don't remember any of the words.


  1. Here are some recordings from that evening:

  2. Good post, David. It points to a kind of "reader-response theory" for the medium of music. I like how you bookended it with significant occurrences in your life.