What is the soundtrack to your life? This question, posed to me by Jorden Guth on a recent episode of the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast, stopped me in my tracks. What a fantastic question, and one I’ve never been asked. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted someone to ask it. I would have been happy to follow that tangent for another hour, but wisely, producer Dennis Burger didn’t let us. I’d probably still be talking. I’ll touch on why this is such an interesting topic to me, but really, isn’t this important to most of us?
Music has a unique, almost magical ability to elevate a moment, heighten emotions, and often create feelings all its own. Who among us hasn’t been on the verge of pure joy/hope/sorrow and been well and truly knocked over that edge by the perfect song?
I don’t think this is just me, though maybe I do have a closer relationship to music than some. I call myself a “recovering musician.” I played in several bands in high school and college, but have let my skills lapse. Someone once told me that all audio reviewers were just disgruntled former musicians. More than a kernel of truth in that, for sure. Music has always been a part of my life, and maybe that’s why I want it to continue being a part of my life. My soundtrack, if you will. I leave Spotify on shuffle while I’m working. I sing along to tunes in the car. While exploring a new city, I’ve got something playing. I love the thrill of discovering a new favorite, and endlessly enjoying old favorites.
A few years ago a colleague (at a different publication) wrote a blog about how, to lightly paraphrase, the only “correct” way to listen to music was to sit down in a room and listen. That’s it. Any other way to listen essentially demoted the songs to background music. The elevator jingles of our lives (my wording). I vehemently disagree, and that thought has stuck with me mostly because I hear echoes of it throughout the audio industry.
Let’s skip past the inherent privilege of having the time, space, and money to have a dedicated audio system. Actually, no, let’s not. Having all three of those in enough supply to enjoy music in this “correct” way is an extreme rarity in the modern world. Maybe it’s because my beat is headphones, but I think that’s a huge reason why headphones/earphones have gotten so staggeringly popular over the last 20 years. More people want to enjoy music, but they don’t have a home system for any number of reasons. Sure, it’d be great if everyone had an amazing home audio system, but it’s just not possible.
Then there’s the absurdity that there’s a “correct” way to enjoy something. I could sing you the baritone parts for three different Gilbert and Sullivan operas, perform probably half the Bob Dylan songbook, and poorly harmonize my way through the entire Chvrches catalog. Do I somehow enjoy them less because I listen to them while walking or driving? I love every nuance of my favorite songs. I want them to be a part of my life. Music is made to be enjoyed, not lofted on a pedestal, only to be dusted off and briefly enjoyed at a distance for occasional moments in specific situations.
This is probably the topic of a different blog, but I once met a woman in her early 30s who told me she wasn’t really into music. She had no interest in music. No favorite bands. No favorite songs. Nothing. She just didn’t like music. I still have no idea how to respond to that statement.
So what’s the soundtrack to my life? Music. All of it. To me, it’s not about a favorite song or even favorite genre. Music has the power to lift us up from the mundane and positively supernova perfect and imperfect moments in our lives. To me, that’s what this is all about. Finding the best headphones to let you enjoy music throughout your life. To enjoy your soundtrack.
I’ll leave you with this. I can think of countless “core memories” in my life tied to a specific song. There’s one recent one that stands out. In early 2016 I had an injury that, for a while, sidelined me from doing, well, anything. Laid up for several months, I wondered when I’d be able to get back to my normal life. As soon as I could, (and sooner than I should have, in hindsight), I booked a trip to Japan. It was a trip I’d wanted to do my whole life. As I limped my way around the country and probably prolonged my slow recovery, I found a new strength in putting the injury behind me. As the trip came to a close, I felt like I’d overcome an obstacle I didn’t know I could. I’d also met someone during the trip, and I’d resolved to ask her out for a proper date when I returned to Tokyo at the end of my adventure. I had recently discovered the band Chvrches, now one of my favorite bands. As I exited Shinagawa Station to the legendary sights and sounds of Tokyo, at the end of one of the best adventures of my life, fully recovered from my injury, I was already in a fantastic mood. Then “Clearest Blue” came on my iPod. Give it a listen if you’ve never heard it. It is, as the kids say, an absolute banger. It launched that moment from great to something unforgettable. The seemingly simple act of walking out of a train station, elevated to greatness by the circumstances and the perfect song.
Even now I think about it and smile. That song brings me back to that moment, and so many others I’ve had since. If I ever blow out a pair of speakers, headphones, or my eardrums, it will be to that powerful beat and the transcendent vocals of Lauren Mayberry.
Two days later I was on a flight home. Ten months later I’d nearly die. But that was all in the unforeseeable future. In that moment, I was alive.
Oh, and we had two dates before I left Japan. She’s lovely, and we still keep in touch. My love for Chvrches continues unabated.
. . . Geoffrey Morrison