Ms. Asymmetrical Information asked this question the other day:
As longtime readers know, I’m slowly reconstituting the music collection that was lost when I moved west. Veeeeeeeeerrry slooooooooowly. Currently, I’ve got about 1100 songs, which is fine, but not enough for me to achieve that sense of security that comes from knowing that you’ll have something you want to listen to every single time you fire up your iPod.
I posed the question to a friend over IM this morning: how many is enough? His answer: “all of them.” That can’t be right; it’s very rare that I think to myself that there is one, and only one, album in the world I want to listen to right now. You have to be able to achieve a sort of musical statistical universe well short of every song that has ever been written.
But how many is enough? 1,100 is, as I can personally attest, well short of enough; every time I open iTunes there is something missing. So how far am I from achieving my goal of musical nirvana? 3,000? 5,000? More? I’m not asking when I’ll stop needing new music; presumably, there will always be room in the inn. But when will I stop feeling that empty, yearning sensation every time I open a music player?
As of today I have 3,202 songs on my iPod, which is about all it will hold. From time to time I knock off a few old songs to make room for new ones, but for the most part I find that three thousand songs is enough, by which I mean that whenever I fire up my iPod, I never have any trouble finding something I want to hear.
My office, on the other hand, contains seven custom-built wooden CD shelves holding three thousand discs. In the past year or two, I’ve let days go by at a time without listening to any of them, and I’m sure there are at least a hundred (if not more) to which I’ve never listened, just as there is a not-inconsiderable number of books on my shelves that I’ve never read.
The sad truth is that I now spend more time reading and listening for professional reasons than I do for pleasure. As one of the characters in The Long Goodbye remarks to Philip Marlowe, “I make lots of dough. I got to make lots of dough to juice the guys I got to juice in order to make lots of dough to juice the guys I got to juice.” That’s not a bad description of my aesthetic life: I spend too much time having experiences in order to write about them and not enough having them purely for their own sake. This isn’t to say that I never enjoy myself–I very much enjoyed the afternoon I spent reading Donald Westlake’s new novel, for instance–but it strikes me that my priorities have gotten slightly out of whack.
I’m making this embarrassing confession for a reason, which is that I’m going to try to do something about it. I mentioned last Friday that I’d listened to Leos Janacek’s Concertino the day before. That wasn’t a random observation: I decided that morning to spend a part of each day listening to something I’ve never heard.
Last Friday I listened to Darius Milhaud’s Protée, and the next day I went to a press preview of the Broadway revival of 110 in the Shade, a musical whose score was new to me. On Sunday I chose Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, and yesterday it was Jaco Pastorius’ 1976 recording of Miles Davis’ Donna Lee.
Except for 110 in the Shade, I don’t plan to write about any of these listening experiences, at least not at first. All I’m going to do is post them on this blog, day by day, and see what effect they have on me over time.
The older you get, the easier it is to become a comfort-seeking creature of habit. I don’t want my aesthetic arteries to harden, nor do I want to start taking for granted the miracle that is music. To put it another way, I don’t ever want to have enough CDs. Hence this experiment in musical self-therapy. My hope is that it will freshen my ears–and enliven my soul.