Friday, July 22, 2011

How I listen, how I read

It occurred to me last night (or, in fact, now, when I first opened up the "new post" page and started typing the words you are presently reading, due to the fact that evading the mental blocks designed by my own mind to stop me from creating a blog post currently requires me to start writing at night and then continue + finish the next day when guilt over the time I've already sunk won't let me do otherwise) that a chief difference between how I listen to music and how I read books is that I mostly listen to music in order to stop feeling emotions, or rather, to exhaust them. That is to say that when I am too angry or when I am too sad or when I am too nervous my preferred coping strategy is to open up the ol' iTunes playlist and choose an album that is likewise too angry, sad, or nervous. Then I listen to that album until I no longer feel the way I felt. So like for instance when I feel that the universe is against me and I'm going to die broken and alone I might listen to "Cowboy Dan" on a loop for a while:

If I want to listen to music but I don't have any particular emotion going on more than the others I'll usually listen to something really laid back because I don't want to screw with how neutral I'm feeling (for me a certain variety of very conscious, very aware laid-backness is extremely nice). Or I will listen to a display of joyful virtuosity because my favorite feeling in the whole world may be the unique blend of care and carelessness, of play and work, involved in a truly show-offy display of virtuosity, because secretly I worship technical accomplishment in all I do, to the point where (because I am not technically accomplished in most things) I can barely work up the will to do much of anything other than write and help others to write. Anyway when I feel this sort of laid-backness I will maybe listen to something like White Denim's Exposion, which has the benefit of being both extremely chill and quite technically accomplished:

In fact I am listening to White Denim now, because I feel pretty laid back right now, because of a reason. ("Now" still refers to "last night," when I wrote this, and when in fact I suspect I will post it, though you will probably still read it "today," or rather, tomorrow, if you read it at all.) That's what made me think of writing this post.

So basically when I listen to music my goal is usually to reduce my feelings by way of catharsis, or at least to maintain my feelings more or less where they are. There are exceptions to this rule (for instance, I usually listen to Antony and the Johnsons more to exhaust emotions I never even actually have than to deal with anything I'm actually feeling) but I tend to listen to those exceptions less often than the albums that fit the rule.

When I read the situation is different. There are some books I use this way sometimes (for instance I would say my experience of Blake Butler is closer to how I feel about bands like Modest Mouse than it is to how I feel about many other writers I enjoy) but usually if I'm reading a book I am looking to expand and intensify my thoughts and feelings for the duration. For instance I have just finished The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and man I had a great time with that, like a lot of people. It's dramatic and in some places perhaps even very slightly melodramatic but that's the point. I had a lot of different feelings while I was reading it -- often paler imitations of the feelings the characters themselves were feeling, for instance intense grief, terrible longing, deep regret, intense pride, terror, courage. If the novel had not delivered these feelings I doubt I would have bothered reading it. But it did.

Why is it that I want my music to whittle me down and my reading to build me up? I'm really and truly not sure. It seems lame to end a blog post with a question about how other people feel about your post's subject because a) of course you're invited to comment and b) it never works, but still, I am curious: does this post resonate with your experiences? Or do you feel differently? What is the deal?

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