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BEATS




Today is day 1, 243 of my month without music. Only one day left in the month... I'll never make it.


On the first day of each month this year, I've woken up with curiosity and a slight thrill, thinking, "what will this month be like without [this thing]? How will life be different? What can I gain? Will I feel better without [X]? Will I (fill in the positive blank)?"


Not this time. On April first, this fool gave up music.


Yes, on April first, I was the fool. I awoke with a subtle feeling of dread. Like waking up underwater. When will I take my next breath? Like breathing... this is the way I feel about music.


This is a new level of abstinence. This one is different than a change in diet, or behavior, this is removing an essential component in my daily life and identity.


Such an emo thing to say.

Totally.


The general reaction when I admit this abstinence is a mix of shock and offense.


"WhAT?! Why would you do such a thing? There's nothing WRONG with listening to music!," or something along those lines. It's true, there's nothing wrong with music and music is a beautiful thing. But, like with any good thing available in abundance, one can grow complacent or unappreciative and recently, I admit... I've started to take music for granted.


Gasp.


I know.


I can listen to just about anything I want, just about whenever I want... and before this month began, I was feeling pretty blasé and bored of music. I admit I feel gross saying that, but it's true. I don't have the same passion I've always had to seek out and find the latest sound that makes me feel something. I'm complacent. That feeling disturbed me, so I thought it'd be good to take a break.


Terrible idea... but you're right.


Thank you.


Compared to the other abstinences, there is no instant or residual upside to living without music. It's a bummer in real time, every day. There's no gain. There is no weight loss, no energy bump, no untapped cache of free time or attention.


Reacquainting myself with silence could be considered an upside, but I like silence. Silence is a skill I don't use often, but I'm good it at. Like bowling. When I need it, it's there. For a brief period of time during my college years, I practiced silence. I wanted to be a monk.


Correction: You wanted to be a specific monk. You wanted to be Thomas Merton.


That is correct, yes. I wanted to sit in silence, in nature, at work, and be content. I did. So, I'd practice. It was even harder to be silent back then, because there was always something going on. This was also the period of my life when I thought I knew everything and was dumb enough to think people wanted to hear what I had to say.


This period is commonly known as "youth".


With practice, though, silence became a friend, but things never got serious between us. I wasn't monk material.


Starting the abstinence this month, my aptitude for silence came back to me pretty quickly, but my shallow skills didn't last long. Like bowling. Within a couple days, I was looking to fill the void.


Tell them the rules.


Right. This month, my abstinence was music, but since music is literally in the air, there's no way to avoid it completely, so I created some parameters. I have been abstaining from turning on music for my own personal enjoyment. I can be in the presence of music, like in a shared, public space, but I won't put it on for myself. I can listen to podcasts, audiobooks, sounds and noise (white noise, pink noise, etc...) (green and brown noise are my go-to frequencies). I cannot directly ask someone to put music on...


...but I can remind them that they are able.


I have permitted myself to make music this month, which has been downright medicinal. There have been moments when I've found myself cognitively or creatively constipated and grabbing my guitar was the only thing that got my ideas flowing again.


So, in essence, I just gave up "pressing play" on music this month. And it's been the hardest abstinence this year.


Why?


I understand that not everyone would find this difficult. But for me? This is cereal without milk. This is a chain without lube and tires without air. This is life without music... no metaphor needed, really.


Music has been an essential part of my life since childhood. I love music. From nursery rhymes to church hymns, to my dad blasting the stereo on chore day when we were kids. Music became my identity in junior high, playing radio station roulette until I found my station. I found my frequency in the burgeoning subcultures of grunge and alternative music. I'd watch MTV on mute until Primus, Pearl Jam or Nirvana came on and stay up late to watch 120 Minutes. When I was 14, a girl on my bus gave me the first Descendents CD.


Thank you, Tracy... wherever you are.


This was a turning point. I was enthralled by the idea of a music scene that couldn’t be found on the radio or TV. That wave of punk and ska music scratched an itch. Although I never went full mohawk and spiked denim vest, that scene felt right to me. Not fitting in was right where I fit in. Music influenced my style, my friends and my worldview. By the end of high school, I didn't listen to the radio anymore, but I listened to music all the time.


Jumping ahead a few decades (all of which were full of music), I still listen to music all the time. I have a handful of those same albums on repeat, but I'm always on the lookout for new tunes. I wake up on Fridays excited to browse the "Release Radar" on Spotify.


On my daily commute, from the kitchen to the garage (that's the whole commute... my day job and night job are both in the garage), I am thinking about what music I'll listen to that morning. What will set the tone? Do I want to double-down on the mood I'm in or do I want to divert it? Will I start out subtle with some Andy Bird, Bombadil or Bill Callahan... or add some pep with some Battles, LITE or Meute? Maybe I need to blast the dust off with some Birds in Row, Ghengis Tron or The Armed or just shoot it straight down the middle with some Mewithoutyou, Restorations or...


...my gosh I miss all of them so much.


That first day, April first... I hadn't even made it out of bed before I was thinking about what I wanted to listen to that morning. Then, oh! the heartbreak! NO MUSIC for a MONTH?!


What was I thinking?


You see this cycle? This is the hamster wheel I've been sprinting on for the last 30 days.


I had never realized how much I use music to change modes. Changing the music helps me transition. From one project to another, or one type of work to another. When I change rooms (working in the garage to hanging out in the living room), or when I need to change states (sitting at work vs. doing yard work), I need to change music. Without the transition, I get stuck. I've found myself doing random tasks between projects just to break up my mental state.


I also use music to motivate me when I run. It helps me take my mind off the myriad discomforts I'm submitting myself to at the moment. I'm running a half marathon next month, so my runs have been getting longer, and podcasts and audiobooks just don't hit the same. On a ten-mile run the other day, I broke my fast and permitted myself one album of music. I'm part of a media club that meets every other month to discuss a book, a movie, and an album each time. I listened to Jeff Rosenstock's "Hellmode", at the six mile mark on the ten mile run because media club was the next day. I like Jeff quite a bit, so this was a treat. My pace immediately quickened. It was thrilling. It was like a drug. This moment revealed the only real upside to this experiment: the music was fresh again.


Podcasts and audiobooks have been good fillers for some of the voids, but at this point, I'm just so tired of people talking at me that I may just add podcasts to my next fast, whatever it may be. I've binged a few great podcasts and listened to some compelling audiobooks, but I'm over it.


Throughout the month, the paucity of personal music has opened me up to almost anything with a rhythm. Elevator music, pop tunes in the cafe, that delicious little jingle Slack uses for huddles... everything has had an appeal (except for free jazz and it's trash can saxophones, that is). We recently watched the Elvis movie, and even though I've never been an Elvis fan, I was so starving for tunes that I loved every beat.


I'm so happy the month is almost over. It's been the longest month of the year. It's been depressing. And I mean that in both the casual, "this is a sad thing," usage of the word AND in the "this is exacerbating my actual depression," way.


The experiment is over tomorrow and the results are conclusive. My life is better with music.


I'd recommend this fast to anyone whose love for music is feeling low, but you don't need a month. Try it for a day, or a week. You'll see what I mean. You'll be grateful again. If there's anything I'm learning this year, it's that it feels good to check your comforts and recenter yourself on gratitude.


Thank you for reading.







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