Music: My Geeky, Passionate Escape

Politics is how I enter the world. But music is how I live in and escape it. This wasn’t always the case, though. I’m not one of those people who was born with a passion.

I have memories about playfully arguing about “old” versus “new” music with my mom when I was pretty young, but my awakening, as it were, didn’t occur until my early teens. It was the summer of 1992 and I was spending the summer with dad, stepmom, and (step)sister. Preparing for a road trip to Michigan, I can recall going to a music store; it was probably my sister’s idea.

Though I don’t recall what she left with, I remember distinctly her recommending to me The Final Cut, by Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t already a fan, but I thought my sister was so cool that I would have eagerly listened to anything she suggested. It might be the very first album I ever purchased.

And thus began my obsession with Pink Floyd and my love of music of all kinds.

In high school, nearly all the money I had was spent on CDs. In college, I would spend countless hours browsing and downloading songs on Napster.

Over the last week, I was banging my head struggling to find something to write. Nothing. Nothing came to mind that sparked any creativity in me. Then, while browsing Facebook, I came across this:

Automatic Unearthed


Automatic For The People, by R.E.M., celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. When it was released in October of 1992, I was 14 years old. At the time, my music collection was in its infancy; I’ve owned this album longer than nearly any other. And while I am a fan of the band, no other album of theirs comes close to matching the brilliance and beauty of this masterpiece.

The Music

I completely geek-out on stuff like that 25-minute documentary. And other things, too. Earworm is a series of videos published by Vox News. It is great and geeky. Some of them I’ve watched more than once.

In a similar vein, while feeding one of my other geeky pleasures, The West Wing, by listening to The West Wing Weekly Podcast, I learned about another brilliantly obsessive music podcast: Song Exploder. In this podcast, the musicians break down their songs, the inspiration for and the process of their creation.

Even more basic than these, sometimes I’ll spend hours on YouTube bouncing from one music video to another: weird covers, original videos, live concerts. And I’ll obsess over lyrics, listening to a song over and over until I’ve got them down. Then I’ll poke around the inter-webs reading about the real or perceived meaning of those lyrics.

The Technology

It’s not just the music that’s important, but how I experience it.

Toward the end of college, as my appreciation grew, I wanted to hear music better. I wanted it louder and with better quality and clarity, so I bought my first hi-fi stereo system: an Onkyo 5-Disc changer, 5.1 surround receiver, two tower speakers and a sub-woofer. I loved that thing. Almost more than family and friends, when I moved to Hawaiʻi I was sad to leave it behind.

But I don’t spend much time at home, honestly, so the possession of high-quality headphones has been important to me for a while. Over the years, I’ve owned a range of brands from Bose to Sennheiser, to my current pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones.

I’m constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of my music listening experience, both at home and on the go. At home, I’m contemplating a return to a purer time: buying a turntable and building a collection of vinyl albums. Such a setup is absent the ease of shuffling through the more than 5100 MP3s on my computer. But as I sit here, writing this, and listening to that seminal album by R.E.M. from beginning to end, I’m thinking it might be worth it.

For my days away from the house, I’ve been eyeballing a tiny Bluetooth amplifier from bluewave. See, my iPhone doesn’t provide enough power to properly drive my ATH-M50x’s.

My Life

My brain, my memories, feelings… are all built on music. There is nothing else in this world that can dig up real emotion for me like music can. Beyond that, I can’t concentrate without music playing somewhere. Silent libraries are for other people.

Though it doesn’t really surprise me; I wrote similarly on this topic nearly a decade ago:

I can’t say I internalize or absorb songs, because often times I can’t accurately recall lyrics, notes, melodies, or rhythm without hearing at least part of the song. It’s like every song I like or love is simply indexed in my brain and hearing a part of it pulls the rest from countless neurons.

Songs themselves can serve as indexes for memories. Numerous songs serve as indexes for places, people, and events in my life. Hearing such a song immediately puts me back in that place. Or numerous memories regarding a particular person can come flooding back to me from simply hearing a few notes of a certain song. These memories are vivid; I can recall facial expressions, furniture arrangements, the time of day, voices, clothing, etc. Yes, songs serve as place holders for my notoriously bad memory.

And because I love music so much, I even do my own lip-sync videos; I’ll sing along and dance around my house, so why not occasionally share that joy with others. Check them out.

My emotional drive to make the world better led me to a life in politics, but music makes me smile. And cry. And dance.

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