The melody of life

I have had music in my life for as long as I can remember. My entire life, even before I was born, I have been surrounded by music. My dad is a musician (even though he'd probably argue otherwise), and he used to play the flute while I was still in my mothers womb. I would listen to music going to sleep, while driving in my dad's car, everywhere. When I was young, my parents forbid me to listen to "American" music because they did not agree with things in the lyrics. They worried I would be influenced in a negative way by the music. They allowed me to listen to anything instrumental, as well as most music in any language I (or they) did not understand.

My mom would generally listen to classical music in the car and in the retail stores she owned while I was growing up. My dad usually listened to some form of Indian music (that's India Indian, not Native American Indian, a distinction I feel I must always make clear). I remember when I was about 13 or 14 years old, I bought (or was probably given, I can't recall) my own cassette player (yes, I had one of those). I bought Indian music tapes, and then Native American Indian tapes, and Inca music with pan flutes (my favorite). I remember one album I fell in love with was Cusco - Apurimac II.

During most of my teens, up until the time I got my license, you would always find me wearing headphones. I must have gone through 100 pairs of headphones (they always seemed to break in one way or another). I literally have an indent on my skull where the headphones cover my head to prove my obsessive headphone use (my skull continued to grow except around the area of the headphones, not hugely noticeable, but noticeable if you look for it). One time I bought a cassette player with a built-in radio and realized I could listen to any station I wanted without my parents knowing. I never really developed an interest in any particular genre, but found a liking in many different types of music. At some point I bought a portable CD player, but I did not use it for very long. Once I could drive, the music moved to my car, with headphones reserved for long trips with my family.

I started collecting MP3s on my computer almost as soon as I learned they existed. I collected anything and everything I could find. At one point, I had over 50 GB of MP3s (the majority of my collection was downloaded on IRC, in the days when MP3 DCCs were plentyful and easy to access). Then my hard drive crashed. I was able to recover about half of the MP3s, but the rest were gone. Since then, I have had one other hard drive crash but was able to save most of my collection. Now I'm up to about 85 GB (around 17,000 songs), and I've only listened to probably 45% of them. I make it a habit to keep an extra backup of my collection, in more than one physical location.

Music is amazing. There have been many times in my life when I've asked myself what I would do without it. To me, music is more than just a sound. It's expression, emotion, and communication on a level that cannot be explained with words. There are times when the way I feel can only be expressed, and fully felt, through music. I've always been known to listen to music loud. That's the main reason I enjoy listening to it through headphones. I can listen without bothering those around me. I can close my eyes and hear absolutely nothing but the music. In my car I'll blast the music on the highway with my windows down and scream along with the lyrics (well, sometimes).

You might find this odd, and maybe you won't. I don't like to hear musicians talk about what the song was written about, or who it was written for. I don't want to know anything about the song beyond hearing the song itself. Why? Because for me, every song has its own unique meaning. How I interpret the song is what makes each song unique. If I suddenly learn what the song is supposed to be about, then everything the song means to me suddenly seems out of place. When I put on some nice headphones, close my eyes, and listen to a song, I can let myself go. The music becomes a language only I understand. I feel as if every molecule in my body is moving to the rhythm of the music.

Probably the most interesting thing about the way I perceive music, is how the meaning of the lyrics has no effect on what the song means to me. It's about the rhythm and flow of the music, and the vocals. This analytical way of thinking about and listening to music probably developed because of all the instrumental and non-English music I listened to growing up. I couldn't understand what the vocals were, so I learned to enjoy how the words flowed and mixed with the music.

Music has always and will always be a huge part of my life, even if it·s only listening to it. When I find a song that really seems to hit on the mark for the mood I'm feeling (which is something I'm not thinking about, I just hear the song and it suddenly sounds like the best song I've ever heard), I can listen to the same song (or rarely, the whole album) over and over and over. I will listen to nothing but that song for hours or even days. The same thing happens with different genres. For awhile I'll listen to rock music, then suddenly switch to hip-hop, German, Indian, or even classical or reggae. The only exception to this is American slow/love songs. I don't know what it is. I just can't stand them. As a matter of fact, I can't ever remember a time when I enjoyed them. Maybe it's the sad depressing feeling they induce, or maybe I've just never been in the mood to listen to them (that would be a good thing, right?).

I look for, and follow, patterns in all music. I can tell you very quickly if something is off-beat. I can predict what will come next in the song just by the rhythm of the beats. It's interesting when you compare music with life. It's as if our life is one long song, with different beats, the current beat somehow linked to the previous and future one. And just as music has to end, so will our lives. Maybe with a bang or maybe with a long drawn out note. But as with any song, our life needs to be lived with constant rhythm, and constant change. How a song changes and what it becomes, is what makes the song most interesting. The biggest changes in musical history were started by those who were not afraid to venture off the common path, not afraid of making a change and in doing so, risking everything.

In learning music, students are taught to never stop if they make a mistake. They are taught to listen carefully, pickup the beat, and get back in rhythm as quickly as possible. In doing so, they minimize the effect their error has on the song as a whole. In the same way, we need to handle each unexpected event in our life calmly and learn to ease back into the song of life as quickly as possible. A song without a solid direction, a solid rhythm, isn't a song at all. Even if you only have a base rhythm that is consistent and solid, it's nicer to listen to than something all jumbled up.

Find your rhythm. Create it if you have to. Just please, have a direction. Even if you're unsure, just have one. Life is way too short to be lived in doubt.


EDIT (2006-05-03): I found the following paragraph in some old files on my computer. It's a peice I had previously written for this site on August 21st, 2001. It's related to this post, so I figured I'd add it in here. It's amazing how the first line starts out almost exactly the way I started this post.

Music has been apart of my life for as long as I can remember. My dad would go to these Hindu related “gatherings” (for lack of a better explanation) where people would meet, and talk about different things. There would almost always be some kind of music involved as well. The way people’s words and the instruments came together to form beautiful sounds just amazed me. It was super complex, yet so simple and enjoyable to listen to. From the age of about 9 years old until I was about 14 or 15 years old, you would almost never see me without headphones on. I would always be listening to some form of music. Around the age of 13 or 14, I broke away from my parent’s rule not to listen to American and other forms of music. My dad taught me how to play the flute and signed me up for classes to learn the tabla’s (an Indian instrument similar to the drums). Although I never fully learned either instrument, I still enjoy playing them.

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  1. If not listening to talk radio, I’m usually listening to 1920 – 1940’s music, classical, intrumental, Vietnamese (not because my wife is vietnames, but because I enjoy it – have no clue to what they are singing) and a little bit of todays stuff (very little tho). I even own; celtic, thailand, japanese, chinese, cambodian and other languages as well… no indian tho 🙁

    But your last 2 paragraphs – thank you, needed the reminder. Temujin and I seem to have a bond and know when to contact each other when we need it the most. You’ve just done the same for me. I seem to have lost my rhythm and just realized it.

    It’ll be an honor to get you lost in Saigon someday.