How I (Desperately) Listened in 2020

Despite the universal pause we were all put on in March of last year, the changes of 2020 brought so much development, both personal and public, and both painful and wonderful. For the first chunk of the year I was living with my parents, ferociously unhappy, and spending nights and weekends laying on my rug with my Big Pink headphones on. When the stay at home order was initiated and the wave of panic ensued, everyone started throwing around this word, quarantine. I remember feeling unbothered, thinking to myself I already live in quarantine.

I had moved from Chicago back to my parent’s house on the north shore of Boston in the fall of 2019 and regressed into my 15-year-old, angsty, Morrissey-loving self (only 80s Morrissey, never post-Smiths Morrissey). For months I would come home from work, flee to my bedroom (with snacks) and escape in my Big Pink headphones. Literally: headphones in, world out. I listened to a lot of Molly Nilsson, Mazzy Star and The Durutti Column (these songs saved me). I would take notes when I played an album for the first time and I focused all of my senses, not just hearing, into each track. Everything was still and I was active, placing myself into the experience of sound and lyric. Before, music had served more of a background role in my life—always on, but always secondary to whatever task (reading, writing, walking) I was doing. So by the time 2020 came around, my relationship with music had become far more active and deeply intimate.

Just as human relationships evolve alongside personal development, I think one’s relationship with music (or any art form, sport, hobby) follows a similar course, whether it is creation or reception. Now, I am no musician, nor have I ever been, but I think there’s creation within reception in the role of the listener (like this blog, I hope?).

In March when we all started to stay home, I became a heavily dependent listener. It was kind of messed up, but it was just part of my routine. From brushing my teeth in the morning hours to my evening walk by the elementary school, songs were always looping through Big Pink. Silence felt like wasted space and I wasn’t necessarily listening to escape as my miserable-ass was before. I was stuck at home with little to do, so there really wasn’t much to escape from other than boredom. In limbo time was fixed so the outlet merged with reality and listening became pretty much everything.

Source: Reductress

My fugue state with Big Pink for those first few months of quarantine was also driven by the anxiety that I would never be able to listen to all of the albums in the world. Like how you will never be able to put the universe into a box, or count to the highest number. This haunted me and, ultimately, exhausted me. Fatigue set in regularly at the discovery of a new artist or subgenre, sometimes even overriding the initial excitement. At one point in May I started to get really into Joni Mitchell, but her overwhelming discography scared me away. Where to even begin?

Vice has some great music guides, thorough yet doable. Their Joni Mitchell guide was the hand holding I needed to break into her full discography. You should go into the guides subjectively, of course, for you’ll need to form your own opinions on how to categorize a lifetime of albums. But nevertheless, these guides are a wonderful starting point.

Over the summer I was able to lean off of my habitual listening habits ever so slightly. I had moved back to Chicago, the sun stayed in the sky well after dinner and I managed to fill my days with bike rides, drinks in the park, and dips in the lake. I was able to spend time with people I love and was learning how to let myself fall in love. I think I might have been happy, very happy, but who’s to say?

Summer melted into fall, and fall into winter, and as it stands now, my relationship with music feels far more secure than in the first half of 2020. I probably go through 2-3 albums a day with a playlist or two thrown in there, what I like to think is average. Now I don’t do new year’s resolutions, because they are dumb, but if I were to make a resolution for 2021, it would be to find comfort in silence, something I failed to do for most of 2020. Before the pandemic, there was never a trip to the grocery store, ride on the bus, or walk down the street where I did not have earbuds jammed into my ears or Big Pink clamping down on my head. And now, as an extrovert in quarantine, I live for excerpts of conversation from passers-by on the street or a chance run in with someone from college at Taco Bell. Traffic noises outside my bedroom at night remind me that the world is still turning, even while we’re on pause, and the sounds that I used to drown out now bring me comfort in this big, uncertain world.

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