Kevin Thomas is the Editor-in-Chief for the Newswire. He is a senior philosophy and English double major from St. Louis.
When my dad was in his early twenties, back in the 1980s, he only had two cassettes: some Steve Martin banjo album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts by the Beatles. He didn’t have a cassette player, so to a certain extent, his ownership of the cassettes was worthless — he couldn’t listen to them.
If my dad wanted to hear something, he either had to turn on the radio or go to a friend’s place. Even then, that meant he could only listen to whatever music the other person had. This was, of course, back in the day when music had to be hard copy. But what this meant is that my dad had to depend upon the decisions of others what sounds would enter his ears.
I think about that whenever I’m wandering around or walking to some place with my headphones in, shuffling a carefully curated playlist on Spotify. Or when I have a song stuck in my head, and I feel the need to hear it in order to make it wiggle out from between my ears. I can just look it up on YouTube or something and the problem is solved. He would have had to suffer. We live in completely different worlds because of the distance technology has created between us.
So, every once in a while, I do something in a vain effort to close the gap: I decide not to listen to music for as long as I can. I don’t mean I’d run away if someone started to play “La Bamba” on their phone. Basically, I just mean that I won’t make any choices regarding what sounds enter my ears.
When I walk, I don’t listen to Jeff Rosenstock’s lyricism, I listen to the cars driving down the gravelly side streets. When I study, I don’t listen to the sweet sounds of shoegaze, I hear the soft sounds of pages being turned. When I’m hanging out with people, I don’t request to hear Lizzo, but it’s not like I need to because “Truth Hurts” will probably get played anyway.
The point is, I have to live by the sounds curated for me by the community or whatever entity wants to place these noises in my ears. And it’s hard. This time around, my fourth attempt, I failed after only three days. My record is two weeks, but that feels like cheating because it was the first time I ever tried it and both my phone and computer were broken, which is what led me to that fun experiment in the first place.
Since then, however, it’s become something more than a fun experiment. Now it’s not just a game, but a challenge for me to better myself. You see, I spend a lot of time hiding behind the insides of my eyelids, in the world between my ears where I can subsist on only imagination.
This challenge, then, pushes me to be there to witness whatever the world presents to me, whether it’s the small pleasure of snippets of conversation overheard, out of context, when I’m walking by and trying to get to class, or when the sun is going down and the only sound is the overwhelming chorus of crickets chirping. Those ephemeral sounds can’t be found on Spotify.
There’s more to life than what exists inside my mind and that’s something I find myself forgetting. So I guess I’m going to try being without music again soon. Probably not this week, though, because I have a bunch of writing to do and I write best while listening to music.