Saturday, 29 March 2014

Music I Can Walk To

I once owned a Beastie Boys best of. Two CDs under the title “The Sounds of Silence”. I don't know why but that sounds like a confession. It shouldn't. Everyone likes the Beastie Boys don't they? Not my dad but then, my dad thinks white rap is an invasion of another culture's rightful heritage; it's like stealing, he says, taking the musical and cultural identity of a race and subsuming it into one's own, bland culture. We always start off calmly, discussing the roots of hip hop, then usually get into an argument about the merits of sampling, and it descends into a kind of name-calling one-upmanship. Like an epic rap battle only whiter. More middle class. I don't know, maybe he has a point, but then Hip Hop was founded on sampling and found sounds so why shouldn't other cultures return the favour. Why can't well just get along? He won't listen to reason. But I like the Beastie Boys anyway. It's my job as son to rebel. 

Don't know where that collection disappeared to. eBay, probably. Remember eBay? It was like Amazon only it had a different name and instead of having a set price that made it easy to purchase the things you wanted, it made you bid with unseen foes for something you very quickly realised you probably didn't need. Like Japanese women's underwear.

As best ofs go, it was pretty good. It had their hits and singles but it's unique selling point was that all the songs were chosen by the boys themselves. You know, rather than some corporate conglomerate getting together in their suits and ties and long tied back hair and sunglasses even though they're indoors and laughing hysterically and drinking Champagne as they randomly select songs they've probably never even listened to, based on song titles and sales and trying to rip off you, the consumer. Down with capitalism, that's what I say. Boo capitalism.

So anyway, why I'm bringing it up is this – it used to be an amazing set list to walk to. The kind of set list that puts a stride in your pace, that when played loud on proper ear-phones to the detriment of all outside sounds, becomes the perfect accompaniment for that sojourn to whereever. I used to imagine that though no one else could hear what I was hearing, they could tell by the way I used my walk that I was listening to loud hip hop. And they would respect me for it.

I'm kind of obsessed with music. I need melodic noise, I can't operate without it in fact. Alongside coffee it's my main stimulant. First thing in the morning, last thing at night and almost all day. And I can't just grab a choon and listen to it either, absolutely no way. The music I listen to has to go with the moment I am existing in. It goes beyond happy and sad, I need music that fits the kettle. I need music that I can get dressed to, brush my teeth to, and reorganise my CD collection to. No scattershot whimsy in my musical world, hell no. I can tell you categorically that the best music to get dressed to is Techno. And the best music to fall asleep to veers between Phaedra-era Tangerine Dream, and any black metal album you can care to mention. Thing about black metal is, it's theatrical, operatic, it tells a story. And there's nothing better to fall asleep to than a bedtime story.

So obviously it stands to reason that I need music made to walk to. It's a perilous occupation leaving my apartment. There are other people out there, ready to impose their will and conversation onto your day. They may want to talk to you, they may want you to acknowledge them, they may want you to STOP AND CHAT!!!! This is a loss of control I'm not ready to handle without a soundtrack ( and earphones I can use as an excuse when someone later exclaims “you totally snubbed me in the street last week”. Oh, sorry bro – totally listening to music ).

I need a soundtrack. I need music to shut the outside world off while I go about my business.

Thing about music is, like any stimulant, it's a mood-and-mind-altering substance. I discovered this early in life when I used to spontaneously burst into tears whenever my uncle put on Ennio Morricone's peerless “The Good The Bad and The Ugly” soundtrack. I was overwhelmed by the sounds, by the busy and strange beauty of the music. The atmosphere. I still well up to this day when I hear The Ecstasy of Gold.

While I was in high school I discovered the joys of the Sony Tape Walkman. When not chewing up my favourite tapes ( I'm convinced that the proliferation of bootlegging originally occurred because tape users got so sick and tired of losing their favourite albums that they simply got used to bootlegging them and using the bootlegs instead of the originals ), the tape walkman was an absolute god-send. It allowed me, during what was a difficult couple of years at school, to shut off and disappear into my own world. I got and remain addicted.

This addiction began, as all addictions do, with experimentation. I would listen to Jean Michel Jarre while reading. That's where it always begins.

I quickly moved onto the harder stuff. Rave music while sitting on the bus.

The Prodigy in the back of the car.

808 State on the way down to the town centre.

Before I knew it I was slipping fast into the sleazy world of The Art of Noise while trying to sleep.

My addiction knew no bounds. It still doesn't. But here's the thing, the thing about choosing music to walk to. I discovered that certain types of music gave me extra confidence as I listened on my way to work. Sure, a part of that was peer based – it's a lot cooler, when asked, to tell your peers you're listening to The Beastie Boys, or Slipmatt and Lime, or Linkin Park or whoever, than to splutter out “I'm listening to Rendezvous by Jean Michel Jarre.”

But it's in the music too. Hip Hop, Metal, Techno, and Trip Hop are just great musics to walk to. They're made for movement so it's no surprise. I later discovered the joys of applying atmospheric music to the world around me, first travelling to and from college listening to The Black Dog and dark ambient music such as Scorn and the Aphex Twin's Volume Two, and latterly walking down Wexford main street listening to Alec Empire.

Getting up, getting out, doing things when, like me, you spend much of your day alone can be a chore. I have been told I exude confidence, that I appear laid back. In truth I spend most of my life terrified. Of what? Don't know. It hasn't happened yet, so maybe that's what I'm worried about. But I've learned to pretend. And part of that pretence is in realising that, when I leave the house, the choice of music blasting in my poor, over-used ears has a massive impact on my emotion, on my personality, and how I interact with others. I used to struggle with an inability, catching eye-contact with people. It's something I'm still working on. In certain, contrived circumstances, I can do it. In the pub. In my own home. Acting. Or with people I am close to. Elsewhere, in someone's else's home, in the street, in the shop, job interviews or with people I actively dislike, not so much.

The choice of music can make all the difference out there in the real world. In my cossetted womb-like apartment I can afford to listen to albums, to choose a body of work and spend a day listening to it. I can listen to “Music for Babies” in safety. I can listen to a full album knowing that, generally speaking, I won't be interrupted. I still have to choose specific music for specific moments though. Best tea-making music? Anything by Ozric Tentacles. Fact.

Out there in the real world I need that extra boost, I need music I can walk to. That walk might just be five minutes to the left, to Tesco. It might be a walk along the seafront. Or it might be a walk out to a rehearsal, to a job, or to the pub.

So what does a piece of music require before I can walk to it? Before I can air it in my ears as I'm pummelling along the pavement? It's hard to quantify, but being obnoxious helps, I think. It needs the bang and throb of rhythm, it needs a pace. It also needs an atmosphere, sometimes if not always upbeat. Well lookit, here's the thing - what works works, and what doesn't doesn't.

Here then is a list of those songs and choons that I have found, across the years, to work for me, to boost my confidence while walking in the real world. It's not in order. It's just the way I'm calling them.

And obviously, any angry hip hop song from the late eighties you can care to mention.

And here are a few more atmospheric pieces that can help alter your mood and perception if you're walking through a busy town, and perhaps feeling the claustrophobic pinch!

So that's it. I'm obsessed with music and addicted to the stimulus it provides. It is mind-pornography really.

But I'm okay with that if you are. And if you're not, I won't be able to hear you. I've got my earphones. I've got music I can walk to.

Sorry bro. Was totally in another world.


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