Reasons to Listen to Music

It’s funny when I consider how many years I went without music meaning anything to me. I knew the sort of songs you learn in your school’s music class; I was aware of classical music from the radio stations my dad listened to in the car; I was aware of soft rock (or “adult contemporary”) from the radio stations my mom listened to in the car.

Of course there was also the music you heard in church; and the music you heard in soundtracks to TV shows and movies.

And, as far as I knew, that was about it. There were songs here and there in all of these categories that appealed to me, but nothing really took hold of me — not to the extent that I actually made time to listen to music.

The first music I remember doing that for was for three of my parents’ vinyl albums: Holst’s The Planets; and the soundtracks to Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II. I remember listening to these albums through enormous headphones that stuck to the sides of my head like suction cups, and eventually made my ears hot.

Anyway, Holst and “Axel F”, in particular, were what I loved to listen to the most. And what I really enjoyed was imagining my own sort of movies to accompany this instrumental music. These mental movies were always grand fantasy or sci-fi epics, with dramatic death scenes and suchlike.

(Oh yeah, the first two Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums were good for that, too.)

It’s funny to think that I transferred this habit of making mental movies to the various soft rock songs on my mom’s radio station, too. But then, that music generally was pretty melodramatic.

When at last I was exposed to Led Zeppelin by a friend, I found that epic “mental movies” transferred well to “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir”, and to the freakout in “Whole Lotta Love”, but not so much to the other songs. And fuhgeddaboutit when it came to a song like George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” — that was a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

And that’s when, at last, I found myself listening to music not so I could dream up movies that never were, but because I actually liked the music for itself — catchy tunes, clever lyrics, or both. It’s hard for me now, in fact, to imagine using music as just a way of tuning out and letting my mind wander and create stories, although I suppose that actually is the point of some kinds of music. (Erik Satie would probably approve.)

I was mentioning all of this today to Ayn Random, and found she’d had a somewhat similar experience. Always nice to find that, although you may have been a weird little kid growing up, you were not the only weird little kid out there.

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