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Absorbing Music (May 31, 2017)

Absorbing Music

David Royko

How do people listen to recordings?

Seems like a silly question maybe, but I’m guessing there’s a wide variety.

Myself: I set a pattern in my college days that I decided I would follow until I turned 50 – and amazingly, I did just that, aimed at getting to know as much music as I could within one lifetime. At that point, I had a 70-minute round-trip to campus each day with a beater car that had a great stereo (it’s the only thing I spent any money on with that car). I was deep into my classical music obsession, and (this being the 1970s) kept three 90-minute cassettes in rotation, each getting at least 10 listenings, of music transferred from recently-acquired LPs (I’ve virtually stopped collecting LPs/CDs, living on downloads – but the collection of CDs/LPs/78s hit about 20,000 before I switched over five years ago). One was orchestral, one chamber, one instrumental (with an occasional vocal selection mixed in – then as now, my least favorite branch of classical – or jazz, though plenty of exceptions). It freed me up to listen to whatever I wanted at home (new, old favorites, whatever) and not feel compelled to keep up with new acquisitions or listen to unfamiliar music to learn new stuff, doing all of that when mobile.

1981, got my first Walkman and followed a similar pattern, and spent tons of time biking and walking, so I really absorbed lots of music that way, which continued into my jazz and newgrass/bluegrass phases (still having three cassettes – one of each genre). The decade my wife and I were in separate bedrooms (dealing with our son’s severe autism and horrible sleeping problems, allowing us to sleep better when not attending to Ben), I had a stereo next to my bed for shorter pieces I was getting to know (Mompou, Scarlatti, etc), starting one track deeper in each night with the disc on repeat so I’d eventually be hearing the whole disc several times over a month.

For 5 years our son was in a residential program in Wisconsin 90 minutes away so I had 3 hours of car listening every Saturday

Part of the reason I would listen at least 10 times to everything was because I so often would get to like/love music that didn’t do much for me on the first, second, third hearings. And I figured, by the time I was an ancient fucker of 50 I’d have a better sense of what I should stick with or abandon quicker – and I was right.

So, turning 58 next year, I’m 8 years past (sort of) my regimented ways, and listen to tons in the car since we now drive to and from Cleveland (from the Chicago northern ‘burbs) every other weekend and hours and hours driving around Ohio/Pennsylvania with our son (now an adult in a group home there) whose favorite thing in the world is being driven “fast” (in other words highway). We’ve been doing that for 5 years and will be doing it until we eventually move there (still some years down the pike). And I guess I’m still sort of regimented – I spend the two weeks between Cleveland drives filling up a thumbdrive with music (mostly stuff new to me, with many exceptions, commercially released stuff, live concert downloads, promos from record label PR people, and etc. etc.) of classical, jazz, rock, “world,” none of the above, for the Cleveland weekends.

And every day I get 3 hours of walking/commuting time to and from work with headphones, pulling from the same pool of freshly acquired stuff (always more than I can get to). And this still allows me to listen, guilt-free, to whatever I want at home – a small percentage actually of my combined listening time.

Having just dived back into Enescu and Tveitt, now enjoyably familiar stuff after my binge absorption/acclimation a decade ago, it made me curious how others navigate our love/addiction/obsession. Feel free to drop me an e-mail.

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