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The Unreliable Narrator

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I was showing my in-laws some HD video that I'd put together last weekend - as you do - and my mother-in-law asked me where I got the music from. The answer was simple: I have so few albums in my collection that I generally use the same half-dozen artists' tracks over and over again. The music is the last thing I think about, and generally just stick it on at the end of the editing process. I always find some ambient instrumental that fits without analysing it too much.

You see, I'm not really that into music. Don't think I've bought any new music in years. Which makes me think I have a problem. Music is as popular as breathing, and for some people just as important. But I can happily live without it, and I do. Like religion and sport, it's something that I just don't grok.

My early tastes in music weren't mine at all - they were my best friend's tastes. Or, more accurately, his elder brother's tastes because we couldn't afford our own LPs and would borrow his, which were all Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and Tangerine Dream. I made some righteous faux pas while trying to decide on what I might like, mainly because I couldn't tell good music from bad. I lost one girlfriend who got really into punk, but I thought music was all about virtuosity and tried to woo her with some Rick Wakeman keyboard solos. See? Clueless.

I bought LPs and went to gigs when I could afford them, by artists that the cool kids talked about. I had no other means of discernment. I bought a quality stereo system on the never-never in order to listen to them at their best. So, there I am, putting myself through Husker Du's Electric Circus and still something was missing. And it was this: Enjoyment. I was not having the transports of emotion that were claimed for all sorts of music. The best I could manage was a mild intellectual satisfaction at a song well sung, and even that was lost once I knew the lyrics, which were always so much more prosaic than what I imagined they were singing about. What I thought to be a quote from Finnegans Wake always turned out to be as dull as a mortgage application form.

I suspect that's when my tastes, such as they were, veered more towards classical and instrumental music: I could impose my own meaning on the sound, which was invariably more satisfying than some 6th-form poseur wailing in my ear about why his girlfriend left him. By this time listening to music had become a sort of grim duty, and despite extensive sampling I was unable to find anything that would give me an aural orgasm, or even a mild thrill, in the way some people seem to experience it. An iPod is way down my wish list.

To dislike certain artists is acceptable, even compulsory, but to dislike music itself seems almost perverse. No one wants to be considered weird, so that's why I still listen on occasion, and buy music just to keep up appearances. Oddly, though, I enjoy making music, though I am by far the world's worst musician.

I worry that I'm missing a gland, but given that it's probably the same gland responsible for appreciating sport and religion, I can probably live without it.

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As I read this entry my eyebrows rose higher and higher, and the thought "Didn't he used to be a drummer?" kept repeating in my mind. I'm glad your penultimate sentence soothed my fears that my memory was playing me false.

Disliking music as a whole is hardly unknown; my late parents could never be bothered with it, and my mother could scarcely name a British musician of more recent vintage than Lonnie Donegan. So normally I'd say, if you don't like it, don't waste your time and money on it, do something you do like instead. (I used to feel the same way about television; now I don't even pretend to care about the silly box.)

But then you say you like making music. Which really is a strange one, and leaves me having to struggle to avoid making jokes about drummers... So I'll ask the obvious question. Is it the act of creation that you enjoy, or is it the artefact that you've created? Or to borrow a line from elsewhere, do you enjoy writing, or do you enjoy having written?

In my case it's both, fortunately, but I have found that since becoming a musician myself I've become much more interested in the music of others (and have caught up on a great deal of good stuff from the last several years that I missed out on by not paying attention first time round). I like to analyze it and take it apart to see what makes it tick. For a while I worried that listening to music this way was destroying my ability to appreciate it for its own sake, but I've come to understand that I actually like it more when listened to analytically, if anything, so I've stopped worrying.

You're right - I was, and still am a "drummer". I'm unpractised, though, so I hesitate to use the word without quotes. I don't favour any one style - depends what I feel like at the time. Playing unfamiliar tracks and styles has introduced me to music I would never have found otherwise, but it's very much a performance thing. I am happy when playing, the music itself is almost immaterial.

Re-reading my original post, I think I'm over-stating the case about music. I don't actively dislike it, but I am, I suppose, indifferent to music these days. Because my dysfunctional left ear means that I can't listen comfortably for longer periods of time, especially using headphones, I guess I'm sort of making a vice of a necessity.

One of my other vices is that I am too analytical with music, tend to intellectualise it, and neglect the emotional content. I definitely think I'm missing out on something. But maybe I should stop worrying.

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