June 14th, 2009

When the Shallows Seem Deep

I have been spending less time in the car than I did in the spring and much less than I did in the fall, when I was commuting up to the Phoenix area twice a week. And I haven't been bicycling or jogging as regularly as I would like. On top of that, before my trip to the beach, the hard drive that contained my huge iTunes library -- 120 gigabytes of music that I had largely imported myself from CDs -- inexplicably gave up the ghost, with no hope for reasonably priced data recovery. Aside from what this trend says about my health, both of mind and body, it also means that I've been listening to a lot less music than I'd like.

That's why I took special delight this weekend in spending many hours alone with my daughter in which I could play music out loud. On Thursday we listened to Sonic Youth -- at low volume, naturally -- after I picked her up at art camp. She rapidly picked out snatches of melodies and sang along, distractedly, which always impresses me. Friday morning we heard more Sonic Youth. Saturday, while we spent mellow hours at home -- I was cleaning while she played -- we heard a wide range of things, from two of Beethoven's last spring quartets, to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, to Vic Chesnutt. The musical highlight was Saturday evening, though, when I brought my iPod with us on the long drive to pick up her mom. We listened to her favorite songs off the latest Neko Cast album Middle Cyclone, which both of us have come to adore, and I also played her some of the New Pornographers songs that best showcase Neko's voice, from the two fine ballads off Challengers to the always-breathtaking "Letter From an Occupant."

Music sounds better when you hear it with someone you love. Even though headphones deliver superior audio, there's something about their isolating qualities that has a negative psychological effect on one's listening. From my perspective, there's even a marked difference between listening to music alone without headphones, as I typically do in the car, and listening to music alone with them on. The reason I sat down at the keyboard to write this is that I wanted to share the experience I had driving home from Safeway earlier. Bob Seger's "Night Moves" came on the rock station. I've never been a fan of his oeuvre and have typically found that particular song, which dominated the airwaves in the years when i was discovering popular music, especially grating. Tonight, though, it held me rapt. I suddenly felt a personal connection to the song that brought me almost to the point of tears, despite the fact that I have little in common with its narrator. I'm pretty sure that all the listening I'd done over the previous few days was the main reason why. Something had opened up inside me, a portal so big that even Bob Seger's clunky sentimentality could squeeze through.