Best Week Ever, or at least a different one

So, for the last couple of weeks I have been without a computer, and therefore constant internet access. Obviously, I cannot do a regular post today, because I don’t really have anything interesting from my two days of browsing, but I thought I would write about what I discovered about myself during a seemingly simple change in routine. It is also my explanation of why I am giving up Twitter. 
The computer crash happened during spring break, so the impact was softened a little bit because I didn’t really have any need for the computer. I was a little pissed at first that I wasn’t able to catch the first couple episodes of “Better Off Ted” or “Kings,” but I had just gone to the library and Blockbuster, so I had other things to do.
What I found (which to be fair, I could have guessed, this isn’t exactly shocking news) was that without the distractions of the internet, I was able to do something which I hadn’t done since middle school really: sit down and read straight through a book. Now, I read extremely quickly, and the book wasn’t the hardest to read (Cat’s Cradle) but it still felt exhilarating.
And that’s when I realized that I was doing something with my reading and thinking time that I had given up in my music listening.
Let’s back up a little bit. I grew up in a very musical family, but curiously there wasn’t ever much music playing around the house. My father plays various wind instruments (right now he is a bassoonist in a community orchestra, but I always remember him playing in church), and the rest of his family are classically trained musicians on different instruments. My mother likes music, mostly pop from her younger years and melodramatic Spanish language love ballads, but both of my parents were fundamentally radio people by the time I came along. That meant that before high school, my only real musical area of expertise was the Oldies played on the Los Angeles radio station K-RTH 101.1 FM. I can still probably play on the piano any one of their 400+ songs on rotation from memory.
I remember vividly the summer after eighth grade, when I first got my subscription to Rhapsody and I really started listening to music. I still laugh to myself about the (now) unlikely album that sparked my interest in post-1960’s pop: Seal’s Human Being.
Now, when I look back, I really can’t go back and see what my young ears heard in the smooth pop of Seal. To be fair, he is not the worst musician in the world, and I’ll still say that Human Being is the best record that he ever put out. It’s really hard to remember who my early favorite artists were; I do remember Randy Newman being up there (and I still respect him as one of pop’s greatest songwriters). But the nature of the Rhapsody service (basically a musical buffet; unlimited streaming on demand from most artists) meant that I was really exploring music in the most concrete sense of the word. Sometimes my conclusions would line up with the rock establishment, sometimes not.
As I went through high school however, I began to be friends with people who are super music listeners. These are people who know about everything before Stereogum, who freak out about the bands at the bottom of the Coachella poster, and who always open conversations with, “Have you heard the new ________ yet?”
As I hung out with them more, I realized that their grasp on music was a lot more tenous then it seemed. For most of them, they knew everything about every band right now, but any music pre-1999 was a little bit outside their radar, except for some proto-indie mainstays, like Joy Division or T. Rex, or Nirvana. Also, any genres that fell outside the indie/pop/punk nexus was completely outside their knowledge. Jazz? Soul? Classical that’s not Phillip Glass or Steve Reich?
Even worse yet, when I would listen to music with them, I never got the feeling that they were actually listening to it. They had a niffleresque ability to spot the “hit” on the album (later I realized that this was simply the song with the clearest/catchiest hook), but occasionally I would listen to an album at their recommendation, and later tell them that my favorite song was X (some song that was not the most talked about/the hookiest) and just see a blank look on their face. One of the most frustrating moments of my life was “listening” to music with the worst of these offenders. She literally changed the song every 15 seconds. It’s no wonder that many of them liked Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals, a musical abortion that is the sonic equivalent of “Spot the Hook!” It strings together hooks, saving them from listening to the actual songs.
And that’s when I realized that to them, music was just a game. It was about scoring points by knowing all the bands. Scoring points by listening to all the albums. Scoring points by spotting before everyone else what was going to be the best album or the best songs of the year. At some point, it just had nothing to do with music. I became disillusioned with that idea of music as disposable entertainment, not even entertainment by music but by the trivial details of releases and reviews and charts and opinion. Finally at the beginning of the year, I stopped going to popular music blogs. I stopped listening to music just because it was new. If it’s really good, it’s not going to go away, and if it does go away, do I really care?
I moved to different areas of music. Now that I am a college music major, an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music is going to be useful (ironically, I am forcing myself to remember classical hooks to associate them with titles and movements). I am also going back and filling in my scant familiarity with jazz. In short, I am back to exploring music for music.
Which I may have to do for my reading input.
I realized that I spend as much time on the internet as it takes to read a couple small books every week. I was really surprised when I got back on the net how little I cared about the stuff that had happened the week before. And that’s really the heart of the matter. The mini-battles of politics don’t really matter. The information I get from my Twitter feed doesn’t really matter. The stories on Digg don’t really matter. They are great at killing time, but somewhere along the line they all changed from occasional distractions to what I did on the internet. It became another game, except this time, the points are not scored by knowing the new albums out this week but by knowing what Obama said in his press conference, or the latest thing Michelle Bachmann said that was crazy. And I realized that this game was distracting me from reading and doing other things that had more inherent value.
So that’s why I am stopping Twittering. I try to be self-aware, so I am not shutting down the account, but leaving it idle. I may be wrong. I may go back. I am keeping up the blog, because at this point, I am writing mostly for myself and for experience. I will continue to post album reviews and book reviews, but don’t expect anything on the cutting edge except for current movies and TV shows. I am not cutting out anything entirely, simply trying to free myself from the tyranny of mass thinking.
I will miss the social aspect of Twitter, but anyone (except Nigerian princes), anywhere, always, can feel free to email me at: meilar @

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