ere's the thing; we all, as fans, go through burnout. Unless you're totally content to erect a wall around the stuff you already like, in other words to stop being an active fan, there's the problem of keeping up. It's been written about perceptively here before and I don't want to rehash that territory, but I will say that I think the vast majority of us eventually do this. It's not a bad thing; the alternative is to be one of those rare John Peels who can somehow make enthusiasm spring eternal. And as much as I respect and admire Peel, I'm not sure I'd want to do that; it gets wearing after a while, staring forlornly at your huge collection, knowing deep down you'll never hear parts of it again because it's so massive. Our brains can flip too easily from love to collection as an instinct, and then the next thing you know you have a museum exhibit instead of a bunch of music you enjoy listening to. Museum exhibits are valuable things, but I know which of those two I'd rather have.
So sometimes you get lodged in the trenches, forgetting why you'd bother with music in the first place. There's so much you're listening to, and only some of it is what you already love because you can't miss out on what you might love and this record deserves a second listen and that one a fifth and if you want to have an opinion on this one at year's end you're going to have to give it a spin too. And like any love it can seem like work, and you inch a little closer towards surrender.
I was having one of those weeks. It's a little worse when you're a writer, if you are producing pieces with any regularity, but not as much as you might think if you don't write yourself. As fellow Stylus scribe Mallory O'Donnell put it, “Writing is more a reflex gesture for me than anything else. Not in a pretentious 'I have to do it' kind of way, it just seems natural.” My response to music ever since I started really caring about it has always included trying to articulate my feelings through text, and while I would rather share it with others (writing kept to yourself always has a faintly illegitimate whiff) I would be doing it in any case: It is a product of my love for music, not the other way around. Still, it's much harder to take time off from listening when you get into the habit of writing, especially when your temperament means you listen near-constantly in any case. And so sometimes, whether through poor listening choices or discouraging reactions or just the phase of the moon, I want to start heaving handfuls of CDs out of my front window.
But this time something happened. I was leaving work after a particularly crap day of being cooped up inside as spring begins to hit Ontario, and I walked out into the bluest sky we've had for what seems like years. And my brain, without any conscious thought or effort, starts up New Order's “Temptation.” I'm not going to turn this into a Seconds. You should hear the song if you haven't, but you'll just have to trust me that it's fantastic. The important thing is this: I have loved “Temptation” since the very first time I heard it on Substance, it being the only one of New Order's big hits I was unfamiliar with, and I have listened to it more times than is easy for a human to count.
Now, one of the prime components of the burnout I fear is the way repeated exposure to the sounds we love can lead to them losing their shape to our ear. If it was a person we were talking about here they would have the option to limit contact, but a song will play as often as you ask it to. I will never play OK Computer as much as I used to, not because of anything about the album or when in my life I encountered it except that I played it so much that even now that I only put it on two or three times a year it's hard for me to actually hear it any more, no matter how I try to focus.
“Temptation,” by all rights, should fall prey to the same thing. Even without counting the number of times it pops unbidden into my head as it did that day I have played it either with the rest of Substance or by itself so much that it should be mush. I've written briefly about it for here and elsewhere probably a dozen times. It has been one of my most-loved songs since the first day I heard it, but whereas the others in its league get played sparingly (even one or two I probably like even more than it), if I go a week without Bernard Summer singing about green eyes, blue eyes, grey eyes at least once or twice then something very unusual is going on.
And maybe, although the superstitious part of my brain urges me not to say this, “Temptation” will eventually succumb. But that day and every other day so far it hasn't, and walking out into the nicest weather we've had all year all that happened was my faith in music was instantly restored. Faith isn't about facts and reasons and tangible things; it's about standing looking at the sky as a plane leaves vapour trails and singing along with someone in your head and knowing, really knowing, that all that time you put into your love isn't wasted.
So I took the bus home and my brother was out and I put on “Temptation” on repeat and washed the dishes and sang my lungs out and danced around the kitchen for half an hour. And it sounded even better than I remembered, and I could have cheerfully listened to nothing but Insane Clown Posse for the rest of the week if I had to. Because all this stuff we talk about in Soulseeking and elsewhere, all the bullshit and moments of discouragement and dead ends and rhetoric, all of it is worth that moment when the song you love comes on. Because what this is ultimately about is happiness, and the fact that the music you love gives you that, a million of those moments, and life wouldn't be as good without it. You can't plan it and you can't force it, any more than any other happiness, but it is why we all do what we do for music. Fittingly enough, it takes a song for me to remember that.