Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The most memorable song recommendation occurred one April night in 2006. I was upstairs at the Tote when I was suddenly accosted by a random man holding a second generation iPod: "You absolutely have to listen to this song!" As he untangled the white wires and cued up the track, he gushed breathlessly, never stopping to mention the artist or the song name. The song was ready. Armed with one earbud each, we sat down together on what I could only assume must have been a collapsed couch. The song sounded so familiar, that smack of a jangly 12-string Rickenbacker, an arpeggio and that masochistic first line: "Just say the word and I would die for you..." I knew it, I definitely knew it, just not the name. "It's the surfing scene in Young Einstein, of course I know this!" He laughed, "Yeah, it's the Stems!" I couldn't help but smile. "It's perfect, it's actually perfect."

It was such a ceremonious encounter that I've never managed to forget it. It lacked context and even conversation, yet it formally introduced me to a scene filled with consequence. Song recommendations don't tend to be so ceremonious now, there's the occasional email attachment or a YouTube link with that requisite exclamation: "This is so so you." Friends have developed the ability to predict my taste with an eerie degree of accuracy and I marvel at their attentiveness (and my predictability). The act of recommending a song can be a bit hilarious too, I chortle upon recalling my old managing director calling me into his office to play me a Russian rockabilly cover of Kraftwerk: "I listened to it and I thought, I know who would like this!" It's a such a fond act of cultural assessment and it so frequently occurs without conscious forethought. With friendship comes that willingness to situate and anticipate a person's musical taste.

My romantic vision of the song recommendation took a bashing upon reading the introduction of Tristan Murail's essay, After-thoughts (2000): "Asking people to listen to a piece of music takes some of their time, some of their life: the composer is stealing a little bit of life from each listener." It had never occurred to me that a composer's creative intent could carry such a malevolent component. The suggestion made me consider whether it even had very much to do with time. I particularly refer to all those uninvestigated recommendations: band names scrawled on a scraps of paper, lost in drawers; unplayed yet carefully curated mixtapes, lost in cars. Each song choice carried that hope that you would look into it, but for whatever reason you didn't.

There are other kinds of recommendations that are unaffected by time, they're associated with that desire to share songs with those you can no longer talk to. It appears that there is a vault of lost recommendations: songs you should have paid attention to, songs you should have told them about.

There's another thing, too, you may never get the opportunity to convey the significance of a recommendation. Some time ago, I received an email from a listener who wrote to tell me that he and his girlfriend have bonded over one particular Yé Yé podcast. I felt such happiness and gratitude as I read about how frequently they listen to the mix, dote over the songs and affectionately imitate my back-announcing as some kind of private in-joke. Now they are getting married, they wanted the songs from the podcast to be featured at the ceremony. The correspondence made me think of the nature of online recommendations and how thrilled I was to learn of that story, particularly since it's so unusual to get that kind of insight.

It made me want to go back and thank those people who were generous enough to share their music, knowledge and insight with me, whether it be at loud parties, on blogs or on email. I know it's hardly practicable or realistic, but it would be sweet thing to say "Thank you for telling me about that song, it really meant a lot to me..."

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Electro Podcast #63
Perfume - Handy Man
AlunaGeorge - Best Be Believing
Years & Years - Desire
Flight Facilities - Stand Still
Marcella - Cave and Text
Ace of Base - Pole Position
Nottee - Don't Waste Your Light On Me
Marina and the Diamonds - Can't Pin Me Down

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Jacque Nodell said...

I saw this article on female rock critics and thought of you and your blog!

Thank you for all your support :)

Eleanor said...

Thanks so much for your support, Jacque! I love the work you do over at Sequential Crush!