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April 23, 2004

Aural Pleasure

Most people have had dreams in which they appear naked in public. These dreams are such a part of our culture that those of us who have not dreamed them—myself included—have been confronted with them through the television, books, movies, and the stories of friends, so we can easily imagine our own. They are dreams of fear and insecurity, because most of us would rather not expose ourselves—flaws and all, and often, all flaws—to the world. And yet, this is exactly what I want to do this week, to get naked for just a bit. I am scared as hell, but I feel like it might be worth it.

On Sunday, I was asked by a friend, "Why do you like music?" The directness of the question stopped me, and I didn't quite know what to say. I forget what I managed to respond, but I have since come up with one answer that I find satisfactory, even revelatory. It is this specific answer to that question that I want to expose. I am afraid to do so because the answer is not funny and, like the flesh exposed by nakedness, it is straightforward (almost too much so to sound like anything new), simple, and universal. However, I can't help feeling that it might be useful for us to unclothe every once in a while, if only to find that we are more alike than we sometimes think—and to share a moment of humanity that is harder to achieve when covered.

Simply put, my reason for liking, or loving, the music that I do and music in general is: music is my life. This has been said before by plenty of people about plenty of different things, and I am not quite sure of what they all meant by it. I do know what I mean by it. On a surface level, I mean that music occupies the time that I so willingly give to it. I believe that only my sleeping time surpasses the time I spend researching, thinking about, listening to, and now, writing about both new and old music, and that this time is only possibly rivaled by my time spent in the basement of the Regenstein working at Ex Libris and—in a good week—time spent attending class and studying. Of all the things and people I give time to during my days, music is high up on my list of priorities, and so, by design, I feel stuck with music the way everyone is stuck with themselves. Sure, you learn to love yourself if you want to be happy and healthy, but first, you are yourself. In many ways, music defines me, and I am defined by my relationship to it.

I am only half-interested in my answer's implication that music accompanies my life, because we are all aware of this. We know that, like a good friend, music can be there to comfort us, to heighten our feelings, and to solidify memories. We also know that it can do the opposite: piss us off, change our mood, even play unnoticed in the background while we get more important things done.

Why I really feel that music grips a defining part of me, a part of what it means to be me and live in my life, is that music and I have similar goals; we hold the same things dear. As an individual, things like expression and communication are very important to me. As a writer, it is one of my goals to attempt to utter the ineffable, to try and find words for the things people say that they just can't articulate. Obviously, music is expressive. It is a kind of communication that exists (in much of the music I listen to) in addition to words, but even music with lyrics has the power to transcend those words. When Jeff Buckley sings his version of "Hallelujah," he doesn't merely sing the words; he interprets them. After telling us for the entire song that love is a "cold" and "broken Hallelujah," he holds the "lu" unbroken until it is almost impossible to sing along with him, saying things to which mere words could not do justice.

Music is my life. If it weren't, I don't know if I would be writing a column about it. Of course it comforts and sometimes hurts me, but it also helps me know myself. Most of all, it validates my hope that there are ways to express the things that seem inexpressible, although maybe not with words. Maybe words are like clothes. If so, strip mine away until you can see what I am singing. Hopefully, you can even see yourself.