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Far from the Lemming Crowd

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I’d refrained for years from using portable music while commuting to Osaka and back, not because nobody my age in Japan wears earphones in public, but because of the vague misgiving that it would be insufferable to perceive rush hour from the glory level of Coltrane; intolerable to be pinned against train windows with Nine-Inch Nails; devastating to crush through the business district with Nirvana; heartbreaking to arrive at my office with Concrete Blonde.

But the germ of those misgivings was my fear that the sudden contrast between ecstatic and actual would belie the folly of such an irrhythmic existence as the everyday; that with all that grandness going through my head I would find it much harder to take it all seriously than I ever had before I began wearing musicians.

Once I was plugged in though, or plugged out, rather, I found that I needn’t have worried. Shouldering into the train station men’s room with the Chet Baker quartet, or plowing through fellow rush hour contestants with the help of The Pixies imparts to the mundane that surrealistic quality it’s always lacked, transforming the commute into a suitably bizarre art form; and having all those stellar personas right there in my head to rhythm me through it all, shrinking hours of competition into minutes of playtime, drowning train announcements in Muddy Waters, blanketing shrieking infants with the Mothers of Invention, idealizing the quotidian, is basically what art is all about anyway, isn’t it?

And in this state of technoschizophrenia, hearing a music that no one else hears, tapping my feet to rhythms unsensed by those around me, lip-synching with voices from other dimensions, walking to the beat of a different drummer, as it were, I scan the commute scenario as a very zany movie by a top director with a sense of humor much like my own, to which this is the masterfully selected soundtrack; and I can walk out of the theater anytime, is the unreal mood.

And suddenly there are choices: Red Hot Chili Peppers, or train through tunnel? Thirty-three public announcements or the Talking Heads? The guy next to me coughing or Screamin Jay Hawkins? To say there is no contest is to say that the sun shines in the daytime. Although the choices may be obvious, and distinguish this virtual fugue state from true schizophrenia, nevertheless it is uplifting to be a madman manque; for, to watch the commuter hordes massively lemminging down the station stairs to I Wish I Was a Catfish is to see with a new and welcome light.

I hit the pause button, turn to a fellow commuter to share this vision, am met with the lemming look, and realize that this reality is in fact uninhabited; so I flip back out and follow the lemming crowd, but not nearly as really as I used to; actually, I’m on my way to one of the many potential heavens I’ve just begun to realize there are: a company meeting, where my boss will sing Heroin exactly like Lou Reed.

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About Robert Brady

  • Eric Olsen

    Great post Robert, and superior taste! My problem is I hate to have my ears covered so that I can’t process the sound of my environment. So much of our awareness is auditory that I feel unbalanced, disconnected, remote, and while that can certainly be a good thing, in general it makes me very antsy. I’m also not a very good multi-tasker – I need to concentrate on what I’m doing and music tends to distract me terribly. That’s why I can’t sit at the computer and do my various chores while listening to music – I am driven to distraction.

    I envy those who can do these things, though, I’m a freak

  • very cool thoughts.

    reminds me of my most bizarre musical/environmental incident.

    driving to work at 5:45AM and i’m listen to Philip Glass’ Mishima…i drive by a house where a woman is holding a paper towel underneath the butt of a poodle who is in the middle of taking a poodle poop.

    i tell you you can’t make stuff up like this.

    (though i supposed it would have been a little funnier if i’d been listening to Einstein On The Beach)

  • eric, you can’t listen to music while you write? holy cow.

  • Eric Olsen

    only if I’m writing about THAT music

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Wow, Eric. I turn on the stereo when I wake up, turn it off when I leave, and turn it on when I arrive back home. I do EVERYTHING with music on. And it’s 95 percent Monkees.

    Mark, you too, right? Not the Monkees part, but you write and work and read with tunes on, right? Anybody else?

    And Eric, i have no problem writing or reading about opera or Ornette while listening to “More of the Monkees.”


  • yep (not the Monkees part).

    i listen to music for every activity except bathroom breaks and baseball games.

  • I try to listen to music when I write, but sometimes it’s just too distracting — it tends to hamper rather than help the flow of thoughts. I prefer not to listen to it when I read, unless I’m reading something easy to follow.

  • Eric Olsen

    It would be great if I could, but I can’t. I listen when I am LISTENING, when I work out, playing with the kids, in the car (if I’m not listening to news or sports), and when I read at night. That’s about it unless I’m on vacation, when I have it on most of the time.