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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2007/06/22
by Jesse Jarnow

Friends & Other Hippie Pap

BRAIN TUBA: Friends & Other Hippie Pap
What they don’t tell you when you’re listening to your favorite music over and over again is that it changes. Sure, there’s that romantic pap in Almost Famous about how ‘if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.’ But, shit, besides being a pretty hokum sentiment to begin with, even friends change. They get girlfriends, move to different cities, switch jobs, say random shit when they’re drunk that registers in unpredictable ways that they probably didn’t mean, and there comes a point where it’s just not possible to communicate as intuitively as it once was. The odd bit is that, despite technically being inanimate objects, albums behave the same way.
There was a time that I breathed hippie music. I had no problem perceiving style, sense, and structure in 40-minute excursions into the ether. Now, when I go to see jambands, it very often feels like going back to my hometown and passing by different kids using different slang. There is no sadness in this foreign feeling. Rather, it feels like an understanding. I can still hear all of the musicological stuff that makes a jamband jam: the tempo of the grooves (fast enough to dance to, slow enough to not burn out the band or audience before the three hours is up), the range of frequencies and textures employed in the arrangements (nothing too high or too low; it’s gotta sound good coming out of PA speakers), the non-disruptive linearity of the composition (gotta rage it live), and the endless stream of quasi-nonsensical-but-really-meta-lyrics (with lines built for cheering and/or cosmic rumination). But, despite being able to hear it, the language — or, perhaps, the meaning of it — doesn’t quite add up anymore.
In other places, the friends changed in different ways. Some music — maybe the Beatles and the Beach Boys, most notably — has retained its innocence and joy, but lost whatever edge it once had (to me), and is now perhaps the sonic equivalent of stuffed animals. For that, maybe, it is even more powerful. Other music dims as the luster of its novelty fades, like (maybe) Soul Coughing, whose melodies linger even as their peerless New York cool dissolves into a world where jungle rhythms are no longer hep. Some friends don’t change at all (Blood on the Tracks, hello!), though our relationships have matured into ones of near-perfect co-existence as opposed to discovery.
Really, there are any number of metaphors one can run it through, but nothing much changes the message: music is just as special as it is supposed to be. That is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with listening to it over and over and over, because it’s going to inevitably be different someday, anyway. In fact, while it is certainly possible to get burned out on an album, that one might do so is pretty irrelevant. The reasons for not wanting or needing to hear certain music seems only tangentially connected to the frequency of listening, and invariably lashed to the extra-musical reasons that made one wanna listen to it to begin with (like being reminded of somebody, or even just wanting to feel cool). So, listen all you want. If she’s meant to, she’ll stick around.
Jesse Jarnow blogs at

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