Music - what happened?

We were in New York City a few weeks ago, having lunch with my parents who were in town, and everyone was having an engaging discussion about O. Henry's short stories, when I looked across the table to where Nora was sitting and said, "Does the baby need more bananas? More bananas?" "What happened to you? You don't like anything," my brother, Vinnie, all but shouted. "Anything that is remotely intellectual, you don't have time for." I laughed, because he's right. As I mentioned in another post, my capacity for anything beyond the morning news - or the celebrity news - has faded in recent months. While I used to love philosophical, literature-infused banter, I now sit out such sessions.

Before I continue, I want to note that I'm not worried for my soul or anything. I mean, I like myself. I don't think my intelligence is in jeopardy; I'm lost without a good book, and while I do devour mysteries from time to time, I never read trash.

But Vinnie's right. Something happened. And one of the areas where my interest has faded is music, and that's what I want to address in this post.

I used to be SO INTO music.

Now, I listen to NPR and podcasts (talk only) and when I get tired of NPR and podcasts and think it might be nice to listen to music, I end up choosing not to listen to music, because I don't like anything enough to muster the energy and deviate from the norm.

I think some of this is because of the natural progression of age, which no one should be ashamed of. For instance, it's not a bad thing that I don't shun money and material goods anymore. It's not a bad thing that I don't burn incense.

And, I mean, I'm probably not going to listen to full Bob Dylan albums and think about how I wish I had been a child of the sixties. That's just not going to happen at this age. But I would like to regain some aspect of what was once a real passion.

I used to browse the aisles in Alexandria local music store Olson's (sadly no longer open) looking for good, new music. Just looking! Open to anything! I used to listen to the music on display. That's how I got into bands like Uncle Tupelo. The simple act of discovery.

My friend Matt used to make me mixed tapes full of everything from hippie bands like Jefferson Airplane to offbeat modern-day acts like Jim White, which I still love. I used to put them in the tape deck and just listen. I'd give Matt feedback. He'd make more tapes. We talked about music for hours. For hours.

In college I went through a definite Bob Dylan (still an all time favorite) and Grateful Dead (Kill me now. I will never voluntarily listen to a drugged-out 45 minute jam session again) stage. Then I started more vigorously plucking my eyebrows and moved on. I listened to Pavement and Blur with my friend Mary. When I was a senior I bought a Yo La Tengo CD on my brother's suggestion, listened to it, and fell in sudden, for-real, true love. I continued to pick up bands from other mixes, like-minded friends' suggestions. Wilco. Spoon. Belle and Sebastian. Grandaddy. I read Pitchfork and went to lots of shows.


What happened?

What happened was, slowly, surely - and I'm not blaming anyone but myself here - I gave up the reins. I met J (we talked music on that fateful night) and he was into music, too. We became an item and I stopped looking for good sources of new bands, because he was my source. I gave up, NPR became my go-to background "music" and I filled up my iPod with several comforting tunes and a bunch of podcasts. When J would play something for me in the car, my normal, bored response would be something like, "It's not my favorite," or "I hate it," or, the best case scenario, "It's ok, who's this?" Woo. Hoo.

There is a book that just came out called "The Slippery Year." I don't know much about it, except that my mother recommended it to me and I recently heard the author, Melanie Gideon, interviewed on NPR (of course) and she was talking about her inspiration for writing the book; her husband had just purchased some enormous vehicle that he was completely excited about, and she suddenly realized she wasn't into things the way that he was. That she no longer pursued the interests she once had. That she was lost.

And I was like, "That's what's going to happen to me!" Only I'm 31, and this woman is in her forties.

But the reason I'm writing this post is that there have been a few breakthroughs recently, as far as music goes. I've been listening more carefully, and I think I would like to hear more.

Perhaps the best part is that, at this point, it's all new to me. I'm behind. I'm fresh - practically raw. I haven't read a Pitchfork review in forever. Hell, I don't even know what other music review sites people read nowadays. I have no idea what anyone is recommending. You can get jaded reading all those opinions and commentary, but I'm like a kid with an untouched bag of Halloween candy.

J has an impressive collection of music stored on our desktop, so yesterday I sat down and, before I had time to convince myself it wasn't worth it, I filled my iPod with music I'd heard and remembered liking. The French Kicks, a band I discovered last year and - surprisingly, happily - loved. The song "Lights Out" by Santogold. Phoenix. The Thermals (which is interesting, because the lead singer of this band, I think, has a Colin Meloy-esque quality to his voice and listening to The Decemberists makes me want to gauge my eyes out). "Tightrope" by Yeasayer, from the "Dark Was the Night" compilation.

I am committed to this late summer music revival, which will complement other summer activities, like long road trips and gardening.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not giving up my beloved NPR, but since the part of me that hates everything has started cringing every time I hear Ira Glass's voice, I think I have a few hours to spare for a long overdue musical education.