As we plot our way through life, our perspective changes. When we first experience something, it’s like seeing a building for the first time. We see one side as we approach. Over time, seeing its four faces and learning its corridors gives us a different perspective. Depth. Where the building once only mattered because of its coffee shop on the ground floor, it now also hosts the doctor’s office and that person you hope to run into. On first seeing the building there’s no way you could ever grasp its reality. You can only grasp what you perceive. But over time you might get a chance to gain a better appreciation. Or you might never see it again.
What was previously dissociated datum becomes a constellation, constellations a universe. In the same way, as we get to know people, each encounter fills in a point on an axis. Kindness, humour, intelligence, anger, selfishness, wit, efficiency. The more encounters, the more depth to the perception. When I get to know someone well and consider them friends, it means that the occasional encounter that provides an “our of character” experience can be dismissed as an anomaly. Unfortunately, if my first encounter is of an anomaly in that person’s character, it may lead me to keep my distance. It’s a tricky thing.
In a similar way, as I come to appreciate a piece of music I might listen to it very frequently at first. Sometimes it’s the only thing I want to hear for days, weeks even months. Eventually, though, I move on. It’s rare that I make a conscious decision to not listen to something. Often, I just drift away and towards other things. Years later, however, I’ll stumble across a song. With it will come memories. Places, people, situations, emotions. Things which really have nothing to do with that song. They were experienced when that song was prominent in my daily life. Good memories lead to a smile, painful ones lead to changing the station. These personal memories which are technically unrelated to the aesthetic appreciation of a song can create a sort of cage around the aesthetic response to the music. That whole combined experience of the memory and the song itself, however, can be very powerful and not something I could ever have planned or expected. A song that was peremptorily dismissed as a silly pop number years ago can now bring nostalgia and, in tow, strong emotions.
People can be seen as a song, or better, an artist. I might go through a period where an artist’s works fall our of favour. I often don’t stop to analyse why that music doesn’t do it for me any longer; I just move on. Years later when I stumble across a certain album again, a rush of memories and emotions accompany the encounter and creates a singular synergy. Unexpected. Powerful. Unplanned.
What’s rarest, though, are artists whose works stay with me uninterrupted. Songs which never leave my playlists, music I consistently approach when in certain moods. They’re as precious as they are rare. It’s not often that I realize that I’ve been listening to one song for over twenty years and its power continues unabated.
The main difference between music and a person, however, is that music does not walk away of its own accord to leave me staring helplessly in the middle distance.