My favorite time to listen to music is when I’m traveling. Be that walking around the city, on the subway or on a road trip. On my average day I would get up, chuck in my earbuds and walk to the subway. When the pandemic hit, that changed. As I shifted to working at home, my 45 min subway commute became a 10 second walk from my bedroom to our living room. Not really worth chucking on my headphones for that trip.
This absence felt strange. I am someone who soundtracks my life every moment of my life. And suddenly it felt like there was nothing. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like I was not listening to music. But it was far less. And most importantly I wasn’t on the move. I have realised that the commute gave me little opportunity for distraction, so I could have some quality one-on-one time with what I was listening to.
It wasn’t just less music, but what I listened to shifted as well. As I was stuck inside in the same location, I looked for comfort. Turning to old favorites. I have listened to Turn on the Bright Lights an ungodly amount of times. With new music I had a real block. I found it hard to engage or gain a foothold. Most new music just bounced off me. I know I’m not alone in that as several other friends have also mentioned this. As much as I love revisiting these favorite albums, they just don’t get me as excited as finding something new to obsess about.
So why this big revelation now? We’ve been dealing with this bullshit for 18+ months. Well recently I started going back into work. Not much. A couple times a week. And it’s coming back. I don’t feel as stuck anymore, so I’ve been able to listen to 10 new albums this week. That would have taken me a couple of months before. And I feel better than I have done in ages. Maybe it’s naive to say as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking/talking/writing about music, but it is surprising how much of my mood is governed by my musical intake, or lack thereof.
Now I don’t want to come off as some masochist who just loves to spend hours commuting. It sucks. The NY subway is run down and has stupid delays all the time. But it provided me with time and space I didn’t know I needed. A setting for my music habit that is essential. I am writing this on the subway on the way home. And I just extended my commute on purpose by walking the first few Subway stops, so I could finish listening to Screensaver’s Expression of Interest. And I feel great.
Words by Matt Paul