Listening to stuff

“I’m listening to Pedro the Lion right now,” my friend Pawan texted me one morning out of the blue.

And just like that the memories came surging back.

Music, for me, has always been like that, this sort of temporal marker. I mean, it’s like sure, music sounds good and it’s kewl and it’s meaningful and whatnot.

But for me, music just makes me remember.

It takes me back to a very specific moment.

Like that summer? Remember that summer? It was so good.

I remember my first album. Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was sixth grade, I think. Music was hard to come by then.

A year or two later, my dad got me an mp3 player for Christmas. It was this janky little thing from Radioshack with 64MB of memory, which is about enough for like a dozen songs, if you’re lucky.

Music takes me back, but back then, music transported me to the future.

Some music just had such depth and grandeur. It made you realize that there was so much more to life.

I remember just lying on my couch all summer listening to Radiohead’s seminal album, OK Computer on repeat, fantasizing about life beyond this tiny town that I lived in out in the burbs. Man, it was going to be so good. There was so much to see, to feel, to experience. I knew it because I felt it listening to that music. I was transported into another world.

By high school, Napster was a thing.

That changed the dynamics of everything. Music was no longer hard to come by.

Pre-Napster, it was kewl to just have access to the music that everyone knew and loved and talked about. It was kewl to own what you heard on the radio because it meant you could listen to it at your heart’s content. Come over baby, I’ll play you your favorite song. That was power. My friend Chris Rinaldi, he had all the albums. I was so jealous.

But post-Napster, it was different.

Because now everyone could have that. That was sort of the bare minimum. If you heard a song you liked, well, it was yours.

My dad worked in computers so we were one of the first on the block to have a CD-writer. It was the slowest thing, like 2x speed or whatever so burning a single CD took hours and sometimes it would mess up.

Still, it was amazing. I wasn’t jealous of Chris Rinaldi anymore.

When you can have whatever music you want, it changes your relationship with music. This was the beginning of the fragmentation of everything. Because now the goal was to find something that no one else was listening to yet. That’s how you showed people you were kewl now.

This is what led me to Pedro the Lion.

Dude, you haven’t heard of Pedro the Lion? Well you’re in luck, because he’s the shit. He’s amazing. I’ve got you covered. Nice, now I get to feel kewl.

The lead singer is David Bazan. He’s got a unique, talky sort of singing style that fits his voice, a deep, somber timber.

I mean this is not like, party, funtimes music. It’s pretty down and soft spoken and emo, exemplified from my fav song of his at the time, Secret of the Easy Yoke.

You will be able to tell from listening to this song that I had a pretty horrendous haircut at this time in my life. Horrendous and greasy. (I had just discovered pomade, too.)

The song’s about a man’s crisis of faith. About the struggle to find meaning in life. Listen, kids. Existentialism’s a helluva drug. Ignore it. Just go out and do stuff. Work, run, play. And for the love of God, wash your hair.

Looking back, I’m not sure Pedro the Lion is all that great. He had his moments. But maybe more than anything, he served a purpose for me in the hierarchy of music. He existed so that I could demonstrate my personal identity.

Fortunately, we grew out of that phase. And from there, we entered the golden years of music.

College was great because that’s when I learned to party and when you start to party, your relationship with music understandably evolves.

I also started college in 2004 so this was basically peak-50 Cent. Fun times.

I had always been sort of an indie rock sort of guy. In part because it fit my personality. In part because my parents didn’t like the culture of rap.

Sophomore year I moved in with my friend Sammy and the timing was perfect. Because this was also when Kanye was coming up and in a way, Kanye has always been this sort of bridge between rock and hip hop.

That song where he samples Daft Punk comes to mind.

If Kanye was my introduction to a more intimate relationship with Hip Hop, hanging out with Sammy was like getting my degree. We went back to the 90s, where he showed me the ways of Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie. He made me read the Wu-Tang Manual. Just as Radiohead, the last great rock band was peaking, these guys were coming up. This was the new rock’n’roll.

White people music made one last gasp around the time I was graduating when indie rock went mainstream for a second or two. You remember. MGMT. Vampire Weekend. Animal Collective.

But it was unsustainable. Because then the financial crisis happened. NYC hipsters (and Ivy League grades) singing about cocaine just aren’t that relatable to the masses, apparently, especially when their unemployed and their houses are underwater.

And all the while, electronic music was simmering.

For our crew, this was a very exciting time. We were independent adults now with money, which meant we could party and go to concerts. At the same time, a couple of MIT kids started Dropbox.

This was a real gamechanger because for us, this was the first real social network for music. At least, that’s how we used it. Everyone got on one shared folder, called SOUR DZL. And that’s where we would share all the latest songs.

Because that’s the other thing about music. It works best as a shared experience. It’s best when we’re all in it together.

And so this was really the pinnacle, where you could not only easily acquire and listen to whatever music you wanted but also instantly share it with all your friends. These were the golden years.

Nothing gold can stay, though.

As access and sharing became democratized and instant, so did creation on the supply side with the shift toward electronic music.

It wasn’t long before there was more music than ever.

And this is sort of the cultural crossroads we find ourselves at. Whether it’s music or TV shows or podcasts or whatever, there’s just too much. It’s so targeted and decentralized and niche. Everyone is doing their own things now.

Have you heard that new song? No? Well it’s dope. Yeah, whatever, I know.

Seen that new TV show? No? Kewl. Oh, well. North Korea though, yeah? Louis CK though, yeah?

It’s why news has become the great common denominator. It’s the one last thing we can all talk about and share in together. News takes no commitment. It’s instant.

But it’s also kind of lame because it would be nice to be able to share better, to share deeper. To connect culturally in a way that transports us back to the past or way into the future.

“We should bring back the DONUTS Spotify playlist,” Pawan continues.

After Dropbox, SourDZL eventually moved to Spotify, because, of course. And we had various iterations. PPC for instance was music for the Party Planning Committee, our crew that went to music festivals.

But after a while, these collaborative playlists have all sort of petered out. People are just doing their own thing. That’s where life is going.

Or maybe that’s just where life goes if you let it.

Because it’s alternatively true that the best things in life take work.

Who knows.

Regardless, the DONUTS Spotify playlist is back. Anyone can join by clicking that link.

BUT, I’m going to add some rules. First, like always, old songs after a while will get deleted after a while.

The other new rule: ALWAYS ADD TWO SONGS.

The thinking behind this rule is that, unlike one song, two songs tell a story. Because now there exists a polarity.

Vahe and I have this thing where we talk about the duality of our nature and our personalities, how we are both Johnny (the bad boy) and Danny (the good boy) at the same time.

The two song rule, in a sense, forces us to reconcile these sorts of dualities. (Of course, it doesn’t have to be between bad boy/good boy. We are complicated creatures full of countless contradictions.)

Likewise, having a two song limit prevents any one person from overwhelming the collective vibes. And gives room for everyone to make big contributions. As a result, those contributions will also be more thoughtful.

I’m also open to whatever feedback and ideas 🙂

Happy Friday.