In 2017, I ran a Rock Music Big Year, in which I listened to an album every day. Every day. The idea was to rekindle the passion for music I’d had for four decades since my early teens. Did that big year work? In a sense, yes: I felt an enormous surge of “rock music luurv” over the year. But in a sense, no: I listen these days but only sporadically.
Well, the other day, I took my grandson on a long train trip and then a walk, through rain, to a lovely café called Coffee Head. We had our usual, a bit to eat plus coffee. When I stood up to place him in his pusher, I glanced at the poster on the wall and was flabbergasted. It’s a gig poster, for Guided By Voices, one of my faves, at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. I don’t know the year – Googling suggests it could have been last year or as long ago as 1995. But the point is this … I experienced a surge of melancholy. Why isn’t that rushing joy, the pleasure of songs and guitars and mayhem, still in my head? Is it old age? Have I lost my soul?
Now I ponder: should I have another go? Should I really push the envelope and commit to an avalanche of new and old music every day, all around me? Can old passions be rekindled?
Last year I listened to an album each and every day. Every 3 days, I stopped and jotted down some notes and a rating (archived on a Pinterest board). At the end of the year, and into the early part of this year, I bemoaned the fact that, while pleasant, that intense effort didn’t restore my love of music. I was listening no more frequently than back in 2016! Well, the strangest things happen . . . suddenly, nearly a year later, my rock mojo is back. At home, on the street, at work in a café, gorgeous modern music plays. It’s a tonic and an inspiration!
The opening verse of “Sweet Dreams,” the opening track of Angel Olsen’s Phases:
“Every time I close my eyes, something small within me dies. Can’t say if it’s dark or bright, but it’s all I’ve ever known and when I sleep, I sleep alone.”
Last year’s Rock Music Big Year brought Angel Olsen’s magnificent My Woman album to my attention, and Phases, an interim album of outtakes, etc., also delighted me. What intrigues me is that both have haunted me since, and today I brought them out to listen to while walking to and from Bar Ristretto. It’s the timbre, the sound, the boomy attention to detail, that hits my heart.
Farewell to a trio of obsessions (and when I say obsession, I mean day on day, everyday, not quite mania but sometimes damned close):
Writing Big Year – you drove me mad and I let you down and you didn’t “work,” but I can’t gainsay the many huge gains I made over the year. I’ll learn from you and turns 2017’s disappointments into 2018’s successes.
Fitness Big Year – you were tough to uphold (man, did I bitch and moan!) and I recast you a few times, but I’m now half a cyclist on top of being a jogger, my fitness is improved (whatever that means), and I’m addicted to daily workouts. My gratitude to you, old friend.
Rock Music Big Year – your daily aural treat was sublime, and if you haven’t rekindled my old fixation on life-saving toons, something nascent smoulders inside me now. Bless you (and I wish I could repeat you in 2018).
(I’ve expressed in a number of ways my dissatisfaction with many of the aspects of this big year. The 123 albums I listened to weren’t the ones I should have heard. I mostly heard stuff that at one level impressed but at another level had me yawning. Rather than ending up fired up about music, as I was in my teens, twenties, thirties, and forties, I’m seized by a sensation of torpor.
So the whole thing was an unmitigated flop? Now this is where it gets interesting. For I found the daily listening discipline quite satisfying and the year’s accumulated sounds have crystallized in me an even deeper yearning to find the heart of modern music, to use grandiose terms.
Put it another way. There won’t be another obsessive year of music for at least a few years but I’m now fully committed to implant listening into my life. My ears, my ears, I catch myself murmuring.
I have no idea where such thinking will lead, but here are a few possibilities for the future:
- Deep listening – pick a small number of artists to blitz
- Surrender to Spotify playlists and see where that takes me
- Find a local pub and max out on garage bands
- Start a post punk band? An electronic outfit
- Support some artists, coupling music appreciation with patronage
- Run a Meetup group, maybe the “Sonos New Music Club”
(Photo from Visual Hunt)
To ensure a daily diet of new albums, I had to curate the world’s rock music, to source stuff I reckoned I’d enjoy. I used a couple of monthly music magazines, some review sites, random media pointers, “best of” lists, and so on. Sophisticated listeners close to me contributed some of my more memorable finds.
My aims? To find the next R.E.M.! To weep with joy! To find songs I’d play on repeat a hundred times! To glimpse the future! To finger the pulse of a new generation!
How did it work out? Well, at a mechanical level I ended up with enough listening music, but overall, the process was deeply flawed. Most of my 123 groups/artists were older rather than younger, much of the content was in my traditional genre. I stumbled upon a handful of exciting acts, but far, far too few. I couldn’t help feeling I was curating from a dusty record bin in a run-down music store in a depressed town.
Reflecting now, perhaps what I came across in 2017 is a symptom of the shift from analogue to digital. Could it be that the shift to playlists and songs, rather than 10-song albums, means my music sources are penned by my generation, not younger listeners? Have I been hopelessly out of touch throughout my Big Year? If so, does it matter to me?
Reflection needed, Andres . . .
During 2017, on eight occasions, a song bloomed in my headphones that made my heart soar. I wrote about them as “Magical Aural Moments.” For your delectation . . .
- Kelley Stoltz – “I’m Here for Now”
- Arcade Fire – “Put Your Money on Me”
- The Mountain Goats – “Rain in Soho”
- Methyl Ethyl – “Ubu”
- My Friend The Chocolate Cake – “The Prince”
- Slowdive – “Star Rolling”
- Laura Marling – “Soothing”
- Robyn Hitchcock – “Raymond and the Wires”
My parents liked to listen to Acker Bilk, a silken clarinettist. Acker Bilk was familiar to them. At best they found my music bemusing or bewildering. That’s our default, sticking to what sounds comfortable.
One of my aims for my 123 new albums this year was to stress test my boundaries, reach out into new music genres. Did I succeed? Not really. Over 70 of the albums were in that amorphous indie/alternative genre I call home. Sixteen were more straight-out rock, eleven were pop, nine were folk-rock. One of the highlights of the listening year were some wonderful electronic albums, but I only listened to six of them in the end. Prog rock also fascinated but there were just five of those. I’ve never enjoyed country music and that showed: only two listens. And jazz-rock, a genre I once flirted with, came up with only one representative.
So no, despite a desire to branch out, mostly I heard what I always hear.