I’ve mentioned before that I’ve managed for quite a few years now to watch a movie a day on average, and sometimes I still think it’s a phase I’ll eventually grow out of (you know, like life itself), but that seems increasingly unlikely. It’s not just the pleasure I get from watching the movies – although that’s never-ending – it’s also the process I maintain around that: the selection, the note-taking, the Keeping of the List. I’m happy that at least I’ve curbed some of my worst tendencies – in particular, I used to go to see far more of the new Hollywood releases than I do now, even when I knew in advance there was no chance of my liking them, but I never fall for that now. I may still be a glutton, but at least I’ve realized I don’t have to stick to what happens to be on the shelves at the corner store: we’re blissfully close to the dream state where you can think of a movie, even a relatively obscure one, and usually find a way to watch it within a few days. And since I can think of a lot of movies, the dream keeps rolling.
My first ipod
It must be revealing though that one of the main ways I convince myself I’m not hopelessly obsessed with cinema is by also maintaining an even more time-consuming twin obsession. Like just about everyone else, I used to be into music a lot, and also like just about everyone else, my interest calcified as I got older. When Apple introduced the ipod, over a decade ago, I was intrigued by the ads, but I honestly didn’t think I’d use it enough to justify the purchase (we laugh at this memory now). My wife got me one for Christmas, maybe in 2001, give or take a year – compared to contemporary models, it looked like a transistor radio, and I think it only (only!) held a thousand songs, but it was still a transforming miracle. At that time, our dog Pasolini was around two years old, and although I liked him and everything, I often found the regular walking a bit of a grind. But with the ipod, I rapidly came to see the walks as an opportunity to re-immerse myself in music.
Not too long after this, Rolling Stone published their list of the best 500 albums ever made, and I seized on this as an action plan, purchasing a new item off the list every month, intermingled with a cross-section of new music and other investigations. Many ipods later, there’s now over 35 days of music on there, and last year I listened to all of it at least once (on average I get through three albums a day – that’s how I approach the task, by album). This only happens of course because I plan and organize my listening to make sure I cover it all, in such a way that every day zigs and zags across genres and that my favourite material is spread throughout the year. Frankly, I’m sure I spend more time than I realize subliminally planning my ipod listening. I’d rather not realize.
I never just sit and listen to music though – that just makes me restless – so those 35 days of listening are also 35 days of activity. The ipod transformed my opinion of Paso’s walks; I became the most enthusiastic owner imaginable. When Paso became too old to walk that much, and then when he died, I went out on walks by myself, largely to maintain my listening statistics. Then we got Ozu, a Labrador puppy; by now I was working from home, so most days I did the majority of his walks (except on the days when he goes to Urban Dog, without which I’d probably be writing this from the next world). Even if I say it myself, Ozu is among the most diligently exercised dogs you’ll find in the city. I mean, how many two year old Labradors are always exhausted?
Objectively, I guess I must know much more about music than the average man my age, but I still feel overwhelmed by the subject. I’d never think of trying to write about it in the way I do about cinema – I just don’t have the language. But I don’t want it either. I’ve spent so much time absorbing cinema, it’s virtually a second job. Music is the hobby, perpetually fascinating in large part because of its mystery.
I’ve been phenomenally lucky to be able to spend so much time on these two wonderful human creations. It doesn’t even stop there – I go to the theatre more than the average person. But something has to give somewhere, and in my case it’s reading – I only get through a few books a year, and even then, many of those deal with cinema or music. You could reel off great books for hours before hitting one I’ve actually read. Funnily enough, I read a lot of book reviews, so I might be able to fake my way through many conversations on the subject. I like to think I’ll do more reading one day. But it’s increasingly hard to see exactly when that would happen.
Of course, when I single out reading as the thing that has to give, that shows you my view of things – I suppose it’s revealing in some way that I didn’t say dance, or opera…or for that matter sports, or woodworking, or the study of history. Our world overflows with richness and wonders, and it’s a tragedy that the prevailing cultural conversation seems so divorced from any of it. That is, more and more, if you listen to the mainstream media, you’re assaulted by an ever-morphing line-up of flimsy phenomena that we’re implicitly supposed to know and care about, and even serious news shows seem increasingly to accept the premise that what’s trending on Twitter must be inherently meaningful. And of course, everything just gets more ephemeral and neurotic and disconnected as a result.
The state of things isn’t strong – many of us have trouble accessing the lives we believe we were promised. I don’t want to make light of that at all, or to make trite statements about rising above it. But the implicit assumption behind much of what’s beamed at us is that we’ll stay packed in our cages with our beaks cut off, swallowing whatever mulch comes down the chute. We’re not all masters of our own fate, but no one else can force a consciousness to squander itself on junk. None of us will ever do more than scratch the surface of the accumulated human miracles, but even just that scratch, that trace of your finger, justifies your existence.