I will fully admit that I’m a frequent abuser of the ‘shuffle’ feature. It’s just one of those things I started with as a teenager, and it was great. I could skip from single to single, listening to my favorite tracks with no pause between. No cohesion, just wanting to live through the music. And yes, you can make playlists to capture a mood, to craft something to suit your mindset for a while. But at the end, even that, you know what you’re getting into.
When I started collecting vinyl, something different happened. I wasn’t going to get up and stop whatever I was doing to drop the needle on a different track (also, when I figured out where the term ‘track’ comes from), or change the record every time I finished with the songs I knew from the album. Instead, I was forced to listen to an album, to actually absorb what the artist was trying to convey. Quite frankly, it changed how I listened to music.
I started to feel differently about artists, I started to respect the album, the sound, the feel, the themes that each record yearned to express. The brilliance of a cohesive album, even a unified side would make the record so much more than the sum of the individual tracks. There’s such a marked difference between artists before the MP3 era and those after. In the age of the MP3, the albums are usually just a series of singles mashed together to fill the time. The unreleased tracks on an album are just fillers, and most of the time, they’re just actively terrible. That’s not to say that there are no great albums being released, it’s just that I feel fewer artists are concerned about making a great album as opposed to dropping a killer track.
It’s about that time when I realized that’s what I was doing when it came to dating. I kept it on shuffle, moving from single to single because it was fun, it was easy. I suppose it can be a bit of false equivalency to compare women to albums, but I don’t think it’s completely off-base. It’s easy to just listen to the killer tracks, to want just the best, the fun parts the easily accessible, the stuff that you want to hear. But to really understand the album, the artist, you have to take the time to really listen, to move past the stuff that everyone knows, to dive below the surface.
That’s what you miss when you jump from track to track, when you move from girl to girl. It’s all fun and games, and that’s not to deny that you might not have a real connection, but you don’t understand, and whatever that connection may be is not made real. This might be a sign of my burgeoning maturity, but noticing that is different from acting on it. Switching gears like that takes time, it takes a different approach.
And then there’s the other parallels you can draw from vinyl and women. About having to put in the care, to be mindful at all times, to both derive pleasure from it, but at the same time realizing the fragility of the piece in question. Having the record in your hand, to have a physical piece of music makes it so much more precious than an ephemeral track in the cloud. It makes it seem real, and finding the record has a story behind it. You knew which store you found it in, who you were with, the mood you were in. Even more than the songs, the presence of the record is a reminder of why it’s significant. It’s not something you need to note, it’s something that’s committed to memory, something that’s so inherently tied to the piece of music in your hands. Sadly, that’s something that I had been missing when it came to dating. When you forget bits and pieces, when you can’t remember the specifics, when you feel like you need to take notes in order to keep things straight in your head, I knew that I was headed down the wrong direction.
That’s not to say I don’t shuffle, that’s not to say I don’t use Spotify to give myself a soundtrack as I’m navigating the city, I’m not a slave to an ideal. But, when I really want to listen to music, when I want to appreciate what an artist is trying to communicate, to make me feel, I turn to a record. And that’s the idea behind it all, the things in our lives that matter are that way because we decide that they matter, and then we put in the care to make it so.
If I’ve been able do that with a vinyl record, then it’s about damn time that I should do that with the other aspects of my life. There’s nothing so thrilling as the search, and the quest of finding something special and meaningful, but I think I’m finally beginning to understand the other part of it, how to appreciate whatever it is you spent all that time finding.
Besides, as much fun as listening to records alone is, slow dancing to them is the much preferred alternative.