I recently mentioned on Unfogged that I own no music. This caused some amount of bewilderment among the commenters who own and listen to vast quantities of music, as well as recognition from those who don’t. The reasons I don’t own (or generally listen to) music are actually rather complex and I figured I’d spell them out a bit here.
Briefly, the reason I don’t listen to music is that I just never really got into it in a big way when I was a teenager the way a lot of people do. I would listen to Beatles records (on vinyl) with my sister, and various punk/ska bands when I was with my friends, and I even went to a few concerts, but those were all for me primarily social rather than aesthetic experiences. I never had any particular desire to buy a cd (this was before mp3s) and listen to it myself; music in and of itself just didn’t grab me like that.
There’s more to it than that, though. One of the main things keeping me from buying music was the knowledge that I would have to choose a particular kind of music to buy, and in so doing I would become the kind of person who listens to that kind of music. For a self-conscious teenager with difficulties fitting in socially the risk of choosing the wrong kind were too great. Even if I had just chosen the same kinds of music my friends listened to, that would put me into the category they occupied in the great high school music fan ecosystem, and I was worried that that would change the way people outside my immediate peer group looked at me. Music is never just music; it is both created and appreciated within a social context. When I tried to explain this on a previous Unfogged thread the music lovers thought I was crazy.
“What kind of music do you listen to?” is a very common small-talk question in high school, and I always replied, “I don’t really listen to music.” It usually required some further explanation, but it was better than being pigeonholed.
I didn’t listen to the radio either, but that was largely because the music available on the local stations was so awful. Also, my truck doesn’t have a radio, which cut down on the time I could have been listening anyway. I could have put one in, but that was just way too much money and effort given my general indifference to music and hostility to talk radio (including NPR).
Later on, of course, I graduated from high school and moved on to college, where music was no longer so important socially, and at the same time downloading became all the rage, which removed the expense involved in listening to it. Theoretically I could have started fresh and become the kind of person who listens to music, but I had been set in my ways, and generally pleased with my music-free life, for so long that I just stuck with my life of quiet contemplation. It feels so natural to not listen to music that I can’t really imagine starting now.
I like my music-free existence; it fits well with some of my other neuroses, such as differentiating myself from my peers and not wanting others to notice me. I’ve also come to associate listening to music with being around other people to such a degree that listening alone now seems unutterably sad, like drinking alone.
So that’s what it’s like to not listen to music. It’s really not so bad.