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Origin story

Origin story

Infected by various glimpses and whispers around the Internet, I was compelled today to sit through the nearly two-hour finale of Smallville. I gave up on this teen-dramafied retooling of the Superman origin story in the early part of its fourth season, while I was still in college. In the years since, I was always startled to discover that it was still going (limping)—but I never cared enough to tune back in. The show had changed (weakened), or perhaps it was just me who had changed (matured…I think).

The wild adventure of discovering music

There’s nothing like discovering (for yourself) a new band. Having migrated almost completely to the film music camp, long disillusioned with the formulaic predictability of popular music, it has been several years since I’ve known that experience. But I fondly recall the times in junior high, high school, and college when a song on the radio, a serendipitously soundtracked trip in someone’s car, or the linking of one favored band to another introduced me to an artist it seems I was destined to love.

I recently wrote about film music overload, and my (rare) need to seek some kind of diversion or palette-cleanser in other musical genres. On a related note, I’ve been musing about how insubstantial and thoughtless so much of my “listening” is lately, regardless of genre. I hear so much music on any given day, any given hour—perhaps more in quantity than any other time of my life—yet I fear that I’m listening to so much less.

Film music overload

Film music overload

Lately I’ve experienced something painful, something that was probably inevitable given my relentless listening habits. After months upon months of listening to nothing but film scores—one after the other, hour after hour—I’m suffering from acute (but reversible) film music overload.

Going back for blood.

Going back for blood.

A recent message board thread asked the question: “Which soundtracks have you killed?” The question immediately resonated with me. I have lamented the death of many beloved film scores, the blood of which was on my hands.

These are the scores that I listened to over and over and over. I abided in them for a season, memorized them, ate and breathed them. And after either a short spell or several years, I awoke to find the scores absent of their once virile power. They were dead. It’s as if I was imbibing on their very blood with each listen, and sooner or later their store was bound to be depleted.

Sometimes I can go back after taking a lengthy break from one of these “dead” scores and enjoy it afresh. But with so many scores, the bewitching sway that the music once had over me is either sorely lacking or completely gone.

How do we kill art that we love? Is it simply through sheer overexposure? Does good art need to be balanced with the enjoyment of other art in order to endure? Is this murderous ability only an attribute of some?

I can readily understand why the latest “instant pop single” loses its catch after a couple dozen listens. It’s one of the reasons why I prefer orchestral (specifically film) music; with its abundant layers of instrumentation, lines, forms, and styles, it is endowed with an infinitely grander capacity for appreciation and “staying power.”

Yet it is the choicest selections from within this “infinitely enjoyable” genre that I am able to drain of their aesthetic vitality.

It’s far easier, still, for me to castrate a good film. Watching one of my favorite movies twice within too few years is enough to squander its beauty. I wait annoyingly long stretches between viewings of what I consider the best films for this very reason.

There is certainly a unique bond forged between art and its listener/observer. Some art touches me and leaves you cold. We either respond to it or we don’t; some art we respond to at one stage of life where we do not at another. There is a mysterious collaboration of sorts between the beholden and the beholder, and I think that the answer to the current quandary might lie somewhere in this mystery.

Art is not objectively beautiful, or powerful, or moving. While we may be able to measure a work’s technical skill or complexity with some impartiality, its intangible power lies within the individual recipient. And because it’s up to me, in a way, whether this particular score (or film, or painting) is beautiful, it stands to reason that this tricky trapeze act between us might not always be achievable. Sooner or later someone’s going to get dropped.

Still, I continue hoping that the art that once spoke so clearly and so empathically to me will again, someday, find me a receptive audience.