I’ll start with a truth; music, as an experience, isn’t better than sex. And I mean good sex, ‘cause there ain’t no other sex worth having. If you think it is, I daresay you aren’t doing it properly, or well enough. When I say experience, I mean the present moment that you either hear or play your favorite tune in your favorite environment, or when you and the one you get naked with climax at the same time. (I’m not talking about concepts or theories, I can’t speak for either. But because I suffer a considerable appetite for both said activities, I’ll proselytize.) In this case, when I use the term music, just picture your personal zenith, your unique musical apex, where you feel like you leave yourself and the rest of us behind. You might disagree with me, but consider this; people write music about sex, but is music really on your mind when you’re doing all that sweaty, gooey screwing they sing about in songs? I doubt it. But let’s agree that music might very well be the best experience a homo sapien can have while wearing clothes.
Feeling the same way about stuff is the reason we have friends. It’s called empathy. Consider your friend list on social media. All those faces, all of those people and stories. How many of them met at a festival/gig crowd or off to the side, where they talked to for hours and hours, loudly telling each other personal things over the music, all the while not actually being sure of each other’s names but remembering that one of them drove 13 hours to be there, that a friend of the other one plays in a band that performed last night and blah blah blah… and all of this, simply because they liked that same band that the rest of their friends just don’t get? Just because they like a similar beats but from different drums? It’s comforting to know that you can make great friends just by wearing the right t-shirt and having the courage to tell people why you like something. It seems unironic then, that if music is just vibrations, that people that get along like that “vibe” together. I’d say it’s fair to say that these friendships are often the tightest and longest standing. When I lived in England I used to go to UK Hardcore raves. (Check out DJ Scott Brown, Sy and Unknown, Hixxy, Marc Smith and Sharkey if you’re interested.) On the very second night I went out, I met a hard drinking Northern Irish chef named Lee, and although we were into hardcore, we clicked because we both liked Tenacious D. That was in 2005. We’ll be friends until one of us dies, it’s one of the few things I’m certain of.
But what of the other end of the scale? Have you ever met a philistine? I worked for one a couple of years ago. I asked if he liked blues and he said he didn’t like music. I thought he meant popular or modern music, so I asked if he liked Mozart and he repeated, almost angrily, that he didn’t like music. Because of my better judgement, it’s a point I didn’t pursue. But what is it to be alive and, not only lack appreciation of music, but dislike it? It seems an almost robot-esque quality, I mean, does this person feel feelings? What does food taste like to him? Does he go home and just, sit? In a quiet room? Silent beats from non existent drums? Of course I recognise that music isn’t the only socially binding force, I’m just not talking about any others.) I think it very unnerving when someone says “I don’t like music…” it’s like meeting someone for the first time and they don’t take their sunglasses off. (Isn’t it awkward when that happens?) The above quote baffles me, and it almost makes me feel like I can’t trust a person yet, just like when you haven’t seen the colour of their eyes. But the eyes are only a precursor, they can hide a lot of things. Even if they take the glasses off right away, I won’t truly ever trust them until I know what they think about The Stone Roses. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the ears are the glory holes to it.
I’m sure you, like me, have songs that can instantly take you back to a time when this or that was happening – be it personal triumph or some unfortunate depth, that act like reminders of how far you’ve come, how you’ve changed or what you’ve lost since. I’m glad I have that refuge, that familiar voice that lets me know it’s not as bad as I think it is. Sometimes you won’t be seeking sanctuary in your playlists and albums, you’ll just be minding your own business and… bang! You’re caught in the open, with your guard down, and the message gets the better of you. For instance, I had stood watching as she ran up the steps to catch the arriving train. Mine was leaving a while later. When I got home I felt pretty rough so I went for a smoke on my front doorstep. I heard a song playing clearly through the darkness of the neighbourhood; it was “Age of Consent” by New Order. Heard that one? It captured the melodrama that had been playing out in my mind since the empty train home. It took about six notes from the synthesizer to reduce me to a bittersweet mess. I’d never heard it before that moment and although I was sat, alone in the dim glow from the nearby street light, it took the edge off. It was like to ripping the band aid off at once, it hurt, but it was better afterwards. I’m sure you’ve heard that story before, in one way or another. It’s curious how simple air vibrations can touch deep, abstract nerves within us and leave a permanent emotional footprint that we can occupy, time and time again. I’m thinking of that word again; vibe. I don’t use it, I think it’s cheesy disco nonsense. But because I’m sure you were lucky enough to find someone who felt the same way as you did, felt the same frequency at the same moment in your lives, you’ve had the best experience with music. It’s not about having a proverbial orgasm, but a profound unquestionable certainty that you are not alone.
An editorial by Samuel R. Barber
Photos by Yvonne Gougelet