Learning to Love the Sin
didn’t think anything would come of it, honestly. I had been here before. Shit, I’d been here too many times. My wires get tangled and I think having a likeable personality is equivalent to being liked in that way, so thoughts center on possibilities. Maybe junkets to shops or to small streets; 2-hour conversations that felt like 25 minutes; hushed pillow talk in public. Then I come back to the moment and find my forecast crushed by doubt and history as she laughs but looks the other way. What was merely a physical expression of comfort I mistook for intimacy and I would respond in kind. I knew what the situation called for: pats on her shoulder indistinguishable from those of a colleague; a goodbye embrace with equally loose arms; another false possibility through my own stupid eagerness, another night ripping music until 4 AM.
It was the sixth night we were together in some capacity, and each night previously threatened the same outcome just detailed. But the environment changed through simple maneuvers: I’d take off my shoes each time I came over; I’d sit closer; our embraces upon my exit would be tighter, more intimate. Finally, in the middle of The Notebook, I sought to test the overriding implication of all this by putting my hand in hers as we lay watching. I was surprised by how significantly less mawkish and significantly more visceral certain parts of the film were. I was even more surprised that she leaned in to kiss me after the film’s conclusion. “Shit, I haven’t been here all that often,” I thought as the DVD selection menu played on for at least two hours. And unlike other possibilities, this one wasn’t threatened by distance, a spate of confusion on her part, or some long-distance quasi-boyfriend in another country. Before leaving we gave each other two sweet reminders of that evening and I absconded to my apartment, needing to convey that evening in two manners: words and sound.
The sound never came.
I mean to say that nothing felt appropriate. I cycled through my MP3 library, three cases of CDs, and the stack of thirty on my dresser. “What the hell?!” For years I had documented this precise evening by proxy; through chanting Jazz queens and Icelandic sprites. Yet in that moment I couldn’t tolerate what was effectively the wholesale scripting of a night filled with glorious spontaneity and for half an hour sought to give the event appropriate meaning. So I settled for the muffled downbeats and cool cadence of “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” by Massive Attack and Tracy Thorn. It was grossly inaccurate, but at least it captured an iota of my new energy. For a while afterwards I thought of that evening as anomalous and continued to live through my Sennheiser HD-457s, refreshing my iPod with new songs, and critical outlets like Stylus.
Then I made her mixed CDs.
See, though some recipients would tell you otherwise if asked, I severely disliked making them. My energies always went into those mixes trying to convince the recipient to love its contents, rather than see it as a minor gift. Some did, most simply listened to them once and forgot about them like refuse on the street. I made my first Valentine’s Day mixed CD for her, struggling for days to find the pieces with the best fit. At the same time I felt the entire effort childish. How many of these have been made with the same diligence only to be tossed in the backseat of a car and eventually tossed out altogether? How fucking unoriginal was it all? How many mixed CDs dedicated to the same artificial holiday had she already received from other suitors? “It’s 2006, dumbass,” I thought, “even kindergartenrs are giving each other mixed CDs.” It was the first night all over again: nothing worked, nothing felt proper, and everything was insufficient. So I did what every illiterate cook does: throw it all in the pot. Lamb, Copeland, Calexico, Iron and Wine, Smokey and Miho, Beck, Elbow, Koop, Mindy Smith. If the song was even remotely amative in concept, it went into the stew.
What I found was that the music, the words, the meanings were amplified given the importance of the recipient. She had never heard of these musicians, so their novelty was more closely wedded to her perceptions of me. The songs began to fit not because they were somehow tonally correct, not because I found them critically palatable, but because she and I simultaneously understood the underlying intentions. All this time I had viewed music as representing a specific point in the world, an isomorphic sliver that was irreplaceable and impossible to replicate. God, I thought of music as truth.
This isn’t advocating some sort of objectivity—that’s always been bullshit to me—but how often had you doubted your own subjective appreciation? We all say that meaning differs across people, but how often have we admitted its personal malleability? When last have the songs you considered important only in the tertiary been pushed involuntarily to the foreground while those that you cherished, those you thought perfect, are washed of their significance? How many times have you attached a fickleness to what was one of the most permanent parts of you?
Then I fell in love.
You cannot imagine the unbelievable effect this had on my entire collection. Whole albums—whole segments of my life—were rendered moot and mute. I look at Dillinger Escape Plan, Tomahawk, and Dälek now with a detached appreciation, no longer considering them proper embodiments of my perspective on things. Albums that I considered beneath me have now taken on a newfound puissance. You know, the ones you sneer at; the ones you say are maudlin, milquetoast, or require specific moments of indulgence. Kenna. Dido. Sade. Fucking Dido, people.
Yes, I’m aware this all sounds campy. I’m aware that some reading this are so tethered to their abstract ideas of what is listenable and what isn’t. Some of you no doubt believe that if it wasn’t forged in the foundries of desolation and despair, that if it betrays any hints of sanguinity or contentment, that if it’s not British and sad, then it’s feckless residue. Whatever, so be it. I’m not here to dispute your peculiar tastes, only to say that all the work you put in defining your musical universe according to rigorous strictures and demarcations can easily be for naught.
This is dedicated to the one who destroyed my music, who took a constellation I had fabricated years ago and told me it was wrong, dead wrong. In throwing down all those songs dedicated to Those Pivotal Moments, I took up the challenge of building a new demesne with another author. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in Nausea that, “music washes away the sin of existence.” Funny, since it’s because of her the music I listen to now makes me want to do nothing but live.
By: Ayo Jegede
Published on: 2006-05-01