The sounds that enter your ears the first time you hear a song are aural mirages. Just like the water you see is a deceiving combination of sunlight and heat, surface flatness and horizon lines, the first time you hear a song, you're rarely listening. You're in the car and yelling at the jackass who cuts you off at the merge. Or you're at your computer and your kid comes up to you and wants some water.
When it's not an environmental distraction, it's a mental or emotional one. We're pissed off at our coworker, or sad about the show we just watched, or distracted by the spat we just had with our spouse, or euphoric from news that our friend is in remission or got a new job. Or maybe we're just reading a magazine or frying an egg.
Even when you're listening intensely and intentionally, it can never be just you and a song. Few of us, especially adults, get the chance to approach a song tabula rasa. Ergo, replay.
Our connection with music is rarely about one night stands. If our bodies react physiologically to that moment when a song kisses our ear, licks our earlobe and whispers sweet nothings, then we'll by God find a way to meet that song again. We'll hunt it down and pay good money if we have to.
While we are not musically monogamous, we do seek long-term relationships. We want, as Howard Jones would say, an "Everlasting Love." We need a friend and a lover divine, in sonic form.
While dreamboat supermodel songs do exist, songs that are immediately hot and irresistible, whose charm and personality can survive all challenges for its love and affection, they're the exception. Not every song can be "Thunderstruck."* Most songs don't even want to be that skinny ass ho Rhodes Scholar who thinks she’s all that and a bag o’ chips, know what I'm sayin'?
Two weeks ago in New Orleans, we played a friendly game of "iPod Wars," a game where winning is as subjective as figure skating or Cupcake Wars, where your tastes are in the hands of the other ears in the game.
iPOD WARS RULES: Each participant picks a song. Said song is played for the group, and the group rates it from 1-5. A song must score a 4.0 or above average to make the “finals,” which qualifies it for consideration on a group playlist. Go around the circle until someone passes out or a really hot chick walks by.
One of my opponents-slash-friends in the game played a song. "Hayloft" by Mother Mother. I rated it lower than the other two judges. It was sort of punky-pop catchy and had this annoying love it or hate it repetition going on. "My daddy's got a gun, you better run."
Last week, I got the new Nickel Creek album. Serendipitously, they cover "Hayloft" on the album. It's the most upbeat poppy moment on the whole album. I knew almost instantly when and where I'd heard it before, and the knowing -- just the knowing that I'd heard it, even though I'd been unimpressed -- made me like the song more.
My original score was lower than it should have been, but not due to bias against my opponent. In my musical reality at least half the songs I truly love, my “5-star songs” -- 465 and counting, at present -- weren’t beloved on first listen. I’m guessing half would have earned no more than 3 stars. Mediocre song.
On my iPod or in my iTunes, I don’t even rate songs from my “All New” playlist until I’m ready to remove them from the list, which usually takes five or six months. Judging one too early is dangerous.
So, while I enjoyed iPod Wars, the game inevitably leads to inferior CD mixes, right? In large part due to our inevitably flawed participation, our inability to see greatness in a song until its fourth or fifth or 20th replay.
* -- I only chose “Thunderstruck” as an excuse to embed this most awesome of covers below by 2Cellos. Enjoy or be ashamed of yourself.