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.