The art of looking back


Epicus Moronicus discusses how time influences first impressions

Time, they say is a great healer. Not only is it a great healer, but it is also a medicine that helps you forget things, allows you to change your mind, gather appreciation for things you hated, and learn how to loathe things you once loved. But unlike space where we have relative freedom in terms of movement (of course I don’t have the freedom of movement a bird experiences in air, or a fish experiences in water, but given a really long ladder, and a body in better shape, the sky is the limit), we are rather restricted in movement through time and can only ever hope to progress forward.

Yet we continually try to recreate the sensation of going back in time in hope of experiencing things as if for the first time. It is wishful thinking, unfortunately; recreating the past never works because we, as subjects, have evolved (or regressed) over time. If we had the opportunity to travel back in time and meet our old selves, I wonder how many of us would be able to be friends with us. It would be a great experience for sure; make us more appreciative of the people who manage to put up with our cantankerous self, and probably will infuse within us a sense of equanimity with the world. But scientific reality as it stands today makes nil of these conjectures and the best we can hope for is to possess the ability to introspect (which more often than not is suspect), be objective (which is to be read as sObjective), and hopefully achieve an understanding of who we were and what we have become.

As we get older, I hope we also manage to get wiser, expand our horizons, and go from being a cocksure individual that possesses certitude about their likes and dislikes, to someone who understands that things are constantly evolving, and what initially seemed like black and white now also seems to show surprising shades of grey. If time is capable of bringing about a revaluation of our needs and wants, then how can our musical tastes be free from its inexorable forward momentum?

Our changing perception of musical tastes show up as follows

  • Many of the albums that we adored in our younger days, can now only be enjoyed occasionally through the tinted glasses of nostalgia, and have receded to the forgotten sections of our playlists.
  • Then there are the few classic gems, that you absolutely adored growing up, and find that time has done little to diminish their enjoyment factor, and if anything has just made them shine brighter than they ever did.
  • The vast majority, are the ones that you hated growing up, find yourself detesting even today, and most probably will find disagreeable in the future.
  • This last point, however, is where the magic happens. These include those bands/albums that you did not enjoy on first listen, either because you were introduced too early to that form of music, or you heard it when your mindset was leaning towards different genres, or because you just did not give these gems enough of your time to unveil their beauty. The passage of time has changed you, and brought about a change in your opinion of these albums, and you are better off for it.

It is this last phenomenon that gives me great hope. Even if metal as a genre was to die, and no more albums worthy of listen were to be produced (and by that I mean albums capable of being enjoyed in the now, and if not now, then in the future by a different me), there would still be a wealth of music out there, which we may have rejected in the past, but can steadily appreciate in value and eventually win us over in the future.

This raises a few interesting questions:

  • Something that I considered brilliant earlier is no longer seen so. So, is it brilliant or not?
  • If our changing selves cause music to be interpreted differently at different points in time, is there any objective brilliance to the music, or is it all just subjective?
  • How much of what we consider great now, will be overturned in the years to come?

Let us assume that our previous opinion of an album was wrong and we will enjoy it at some time in the future.

How do we know if it is an album that will continue to stink, or if it is coal that is capable of turning into a diamond? The points mentioned below might provide a categorization of things that we instinctively do (or not do)

  •  Reviews – While it is generally hard to give serious credence to reviews, as they usually tend to be emotional outpouring of an individual, over time we gain an understanding of the reviewer, their inclination in terms of the music, and what they like and dislike in music. Then find a reviewer whose taste seems compatible with yours, and take a few risks on the things they seem to enjoy. Some of these recommendations, might over time be something you start enjoying
  •  Word of mouth – Again similar concept as the reviews. Since everyone’s listening to something unique or the other, and everyone’s recommending everything that they like, it becomes hard to keep on top of all the recommendations that you get, and as a result a lot of them slip through the crack. This serves as the easiest way to rediscover lost gems.
  •  Concentrated listening – A lot of metal bands, especially the ones who worship at the altar of atonal dissonance, are really hard to decipher upon first listen, and it becomes harder if we are listening while undertaking other activities. Concentrated listening makes it easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  •  Repetition – This one is probably one of the harder tenets to follow. Some bands / albums require repeated listens, and until they start making sense to you, will always hide in plain sight, stinking like garbage. You never enjoyed the first sip of beer you drank, nor did you enjoy the first puff of smoke you inhaled (maybe you were spawned from the netherworld to drink and smoke, and found the meaning of life with the first toke and sip). You persisted and over time have come to find great comfort in these necessary evils. Similarly, some music takes a while to figure out, and all that we can do is persist.
  •  Explore – There’s a tendency to stay entrenched in your tastes, and as a result you keep checking out more music that just manages to cater to your current inclinations. That’s akin to foregoing a healthy balanced meal and persisting in eating chocolate and ice creams.
  •  Quantity control – This seems paradoxical especially coming after the tenet to go forth and explore more music. With the amount of music available out there, it is so easy to get overwhelmed and not give any individual piece of music enough of a chance to make its impression upon you. So make sure that you give yourself enough time to be able to give justice to the music that you are checking out.
  •  Brand quality – If a band has served you well, and kept you happy with a majority of its output, they’ve at least garnered enough good will for you to give their next album a listen, before you pass your vicious judgement upon it.
  •  Keep an open mind – We, as humans, are a stubborn species, and oft times would rather revel in the constancy of being, than tackle with the amorphous world of change. Expectation can be a silent killer, and anything heard that does not match up to it, or differs in any way from what was expected, gets branded immediately as not enjoyable, after which we move onto other music that demands our attention. As clichéd as it sounds, it is when you go in with no expectation, that you can enjoy the music free from any baggage, that you bring forth with you, and possibly glean some sense of magic.
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