My Plan to Recover from Musical Paralysis
I recently read an article stating that the “average person reaches ‘musical paralysis’ — when she or he primarily listens to familiar tracks and does not seek out new genres — at the age of 27 years and 11 months.”
Yikes. I’m 43.
The information for the piece came from a survey done by the streaming site Deezer, which polled 5,000 individuals from five countries on their listening habits. Although a little surprising — I would have guessed most adults continue to embrace new music as they age — it explains something I’ve noticed lately: my tastes have become a bit, shall we say, old school.
Once upon a time, I spent every bit of disposable income on music. After school, between classes, on weekends, you’d find me at Newbury Comics or HMV or Tower Records or Sam Goody perusing the latest releases. I’d spend hours scanning the racks in search of premier music to add to my collection.
Inevitably, I’d walk out with stacks of cassettes, cassingles (ask your parents), or CDs, which I would play in heavy rotation for days. Then, I’d head back to a store to start the process all over again.
When I wasn’t at school or in a record shop, I was home, watching music videos on MTV while flipping through Spin magazine. It was through these outlets that I learned about and developed a lifelong love for some of the best music of the time: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ani DiFranco, Nirvana, Pixies, Beastie Boys, Fiona Apple, Beck, Concrete Blonde, Rage Against the Machine, Hole, Jane’s Addiction, Poe, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins, to name a few.
Music meant everything to me. It entertained, inspired, and expanded my understanding of the world. Song lyrics were my form of poetry; I pored over liner notes the way scholars study textbooks. Playing the right song at the right moment could completely change my entire state of mind. It was exciting; whenever I discovered a new artist, I’d spend hours creating mix tapes (and later, CDs) to distribute to friends.
My love for music was all-consuming. I was a fanatic in every sense of the word.
Then, in my late 20s, it all stopped.
Same Old Song and Dance
Somewhere along the way, life got busy. I no longer had the time or funds to spend half a day, let alone half my income, on music. I fell into so-called musical paralysis by continuing to listen to the same artists and songs without adding anything new into the rotation. And I didn’t even notice it had happened.
Without realizing it, I’d lost touch.
It was only recently that I became aware my tastes aren’t as cool as they once were. While flipping through magazines one afternoon, I discovered that although I recognized every song on Entertainment Weekly’s “Chart Flashback: 1989” list, I didn’t know a single one on the current Billboard 100 chart. In fact, I didn’t even know most of the artists on the Billboard chart.
How did this happen? How did I go from ultra-aware music lover to oblivious, passive listener?
Part of it was because of the changing musical landscape. MTV became a reality TV channel while indie radio stations were shuttered to make room for corporate interests. Streaming replaced physical formats and the few record stores still open, like Newbury Comics, have switched to selling t-shirts, knick-knacks, and posters.
Meanwhile, iTunes has enabled me to curate my own playlists. I no longer have to suffer through a song I hate to hear one I love; I can dump my favorites onto a list and call it a day.
Sadly, this means I’m not being exposed to anything new. If the latest music I’m tapped into is over two decades old, I’m missing out on lyrics, rhythms, and melodies that could very well change my perspective.
The World is New
So, I’m making a concerted effort to recover from this “musical paralysis.”
To start with, I’m paying more attention to new music used in media. Films, TV shows, and commercials* have introduced me to a few songs that have become favorites.
(*My apologies to my younger self, who would’ve hung herself by her Doc Martens laces before ever getting song recommendations from a television commercial.)
I’m also going to give the local college station a listen now and then, to break up the monotony of 80s music that typically plays in my car. After all, there are only so many times you can hear a little ditty about Jack and Diane before you’re ready to drive into a brick wall.
Hopefully, by proactively listening, I can expand my musical horizons once again. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the days of yore, when music was my absolute everything, but breaking the paralysis might just bring back some of that excitement. Maybe in the process of discovering new music, I’ll discover more of myself.
If nothing else, I’ll be able to talk to my son about something other than Mellencamp.