Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Books vs. Music

One of my least favourite questions when meeting and getting to know people is, 'what kind of music do you like?'. I have never, ever given a satisfactory answer to this question, and I don't know what to do or say in response, except for some kind of shitty little shrug.

My confession: I don't really like music.

There, I said it.

It's not so much that I dislike music, and more that it just isn't that important to me, but when I try to trace the cause of this apathy, I draw a massive blank. My dad is very into music and plays guitar, as do both my brothers. I even learned to play the piano for over a decade, so I can't possibly hate music. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I just don't really get it. I struggle to understand the effect it has on people who are passionate about it. I can listen to music, but more often than not, I prefer silence - if it's some background noise I'm looking for, I would sooner put on a DVD and half-listen to the dialogue than to an album. I find music too distracting. I find it requires genuine effort to sit in a room with music playing.  It doesn't move me or evoke much in me. It's too foreign to my ear.

I didn't always 'dislike' music. The first album I ever got on cassette was Michael Jackson's Thriller which I played obsessively, and I remember loving the Spice Girls in their heyday. During the days leading up to a long car journey with my family, I would partake in an elaborate ritual which involved making various mixtapes from dozens of other tapes to play on my Walkman, which helped with my chronic my motion-sickness. These days I drive a car of my own, and listen to music when I'm in it, though there are only about four CDs of miscellaneous songs which I have on rotation (occasionally I will borrow a real CD and play it over and over again until I can't bear it any longer). I find that I only really listen to them because I dislike the radio even more than I dislike music.

One of my hesitations with music is the way it divides people. People are defensive of their favourite bands the way that they're defensive of their favourite football team, or their religion. Things get heated. Music-lovers make judgements on people based on what they proclaim is a great album. What it really comes down to is: are you cool or not?

It might shock you to learn that I am not cool.

I definitely feel self-conscious about my lack of knowledge, which is not easy to admit. With books or films, I'm relatively confident that I can at least back up my opinions, and not care what someone else thinks. I know that my musical exposure is limited, but I don't like to be judged as stupid, so I tend to keep quiet about it, or just smile blankly when the conversation shifts that way, which is a habit I loathe. I never want to be that girl who giggles and nods even though she has no clue what the hell anyone is talking about - even if you disagree with someone on their taste in music, at least they have a fucking opinion. Because I have such difficulty admitting I'm a musical newb, I can't participate completely in these exchanges and I tune out. Subsequently, I'm never exposed to music through conversation with people who might actually help me learn.

I feel un-knowledgable, which makes me feel vulnerable, but moreover, I feel like a fraud. Perhaps my lack of musical inclination not only means that I'm not cool, but more importantly, that I don't have a soul. What kind of hollow, empty creature doesn't listen to music? It's embarrassing, and it bothers me because music is universal to pretty much all cultures, unlike writing and film. Am I missing something fundamental from the spectrum of human experience? I don't feel dead inside, but I do wonder sometimes if I'm missing out on great culture and on connections with my fellow humans.

I often say to people that I'm more into books and films than music, and that's true, rather than a deflection from the question. The only comparison I can think to make is that the way someone feels about their favourite song, I feel about my favourite book. I don't know what the fuck I'd do with my top five desert island discs for my only entertainment on an actual desert island.

Probably the largest factor that continues to keep me estranged from music is how daunted I am by the whole thing. There is so much out there, and it changes so rapidly, that I just don't know where to start. I'm 25 now, so when it comes to my peers I've got 25 years of music to catch up on, and that's only if you're counting good music that was released while I've been alive. There's also the shitty music that I would have to sift through. And the decades before that which I also have no clue about. And stuff from all over the world.

I'm left helpless and overwhelmed. The task is too big for me. I must have missed a crucial developmental stage in my adolescence when most people are starting to learn what kind of music they like. In several cases of children raised by wolves, scientists found that after a certain age, children permanently lose the ability to pick up human language. It's too late for me too: I fear that I'm a less tragic version of these feral children, doomed to remain tuneless forever.

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