Sunlit Water

August 29, 2006

The Sound Of Silence

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 10:50 pm

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.



  1. I am currently both listening to music and drinking alone (Arcade Fire and Cabernet, respectively–my “solitude” combo of late). It’s more of an introspective mood than a sad one, though.

    I actually almost always listen to music alone–I primarily use headphones, even when at home. It’s a quite personal experience, as my musical choices depend quite heavily on how I’m feeling at the moment. A do-it-yourself psychotropic drug, of sorts.

    Comment by Matt F — August 30, 2006 @ 12:07 am |Reply

  2. Yeah, I’m not claiming that listening to music alone actually is sad, just that it feels that way to me as a result of not doing it for so many years. Obviously this is not a common attitude.

    Comment by teofilo — August 30, 2006 @ 12:19 am |Reply

  3. Do I read correctly: you are hostile to NPR? I missed that unfogged thread (crap!), so I’m way late to the party here. But, wow. It’s as if we should all be soliciting your address privately in order to send you mix CDs (or tapes!). Oh, and a car stereo (actually more do-able than you realize). But I suppose that’s not what you’re really after here.

    Labor on in silence, friend.

    Comment by Stanley — August 30, 2006 @ 12:28 am |Reply

  4. The NPR thing is totally separate from the music thing and stems from the fact that when I was a kid my parents had it on all the fucking time. I couldn’t stand it then and I can’t stand it now, and judging from various other Unfogged threads I’m not alone.

    And the whole point of this post was to explain that I’m totally comfortable with not owning any music. No need to send mix tapes, though I appreciate your concern.

    Comment by teofilo — August 30, 2006 @ 12:39 am |Reply

  5. You’re very much not alone on the NPR thing, it’s true. And I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you were after something here. If you’re content, then bully for you. I was just surprised, that’s all.

    Comment by Stanley — August 30, 2006 @ 12:45 am |Reply

  6. I didn’t own any music until quite recently, and even now don’t own much, and most is stuff I got from my sister and her husband who own quite a bit, and encouraged me to just grab stuff off of their hard drive and filter out what I like.

    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.

    I ran into this, too. I didn’t like enough music to be able to say that I liked any particular artist – I generally go on a song by song basis – but I found that if you expressed a preference – even if you said, “I only like this one song by x” – you would almost inevitably be put into a “type of person who likes x” category. I still don’t have much of an answer to the question. I just like what I like. And I’m usually fine without music for long periods of time.

    Comment by eb — August 30, 2006 @ 1:08 am |Reply

  7. I actually basically didn’t listen to music at all until I was around 17.

    Comment by ben wolfson — September 4, 2006 @ 7:41 am |Reply

  8. > I actually basically didn’t listen to music at all until I was
    > around 17.

    same here. Actually I play doublebass in my school’s orchestra (and did in highschool as well), and so I always listened to some classical music, but didn’t start to listen to much, or any popular music, until around the end of high school, beginning of college.

    The reason I listen to music alone now is pretty much that a lot of good music isn’t popular, and so you won’t hear it on the radio, or people playing it, or in tv/movies, etc.

    Comment by MaxPolun — September 5, 2006 @ 9:34 am |Reply

  9. I am surprised at people without music because I thought the one thing humans have in common is that music thrills our souls.

    Before age 12, I endured the ridicule of my older sisters when I said my favorite singer was Kenny Rogers (because my mom liked him). So when they asked what my favorite song was, I came up with an answer they happened to accept. Something by El Debarge. Then George Michael came along and I got a hand-me-down radio, a cumbersome beauty that had an 8-track I unfortunately couldn’t use. But I think it could record cassettes.

    Comment by ~Macarena~ — September 7, 2006 @ 7:26 pm |Reply

  10. Heh. Even though I’m actually listening to music as I type this, I have always swung back and forth between not listening to music and listening to it sporadically. The non music periods can be years. But then again, since I’m deaf, no one is ever taken aback by that 🙂

    Interesting to see that some folks just don’t need to listen to music. Makes sense, really.

    Comment by anon — September 8, 2006 @ 1:10 am |Reply

  11. I found this blog by Googling “I don’t listen to music.” I feel affirmed in a way now:) I’d wage that most people don’t realize how “new” recorded music really is. It didn’t become a big business (like many things in the modern world) until post-WWII. Our grandparents didn’t listen to music anytime they felt like it. Most commonly, they either played it themselves(!) at home or gathered socially to hear it in church.

    Comment by anon — December 26, 2006 @ 6:17 pm |Reply

  12. I was at first a bit unnerved at the title, but after reading I can understand.

    Might I suggest you find a way to deliberately listen to the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and either “Close to the Edge” by Yes or “Dogs” by Pink Floyd.

    The reason for these particular pieces is in how easily they moves you and take you places. I just have this pathos that your missing out on the music appreciation thing.

    Comment by Music Lover — July 24, 2008 @ 8:36 pm |Reply

  13. I also found this post by googling “I don’t listen to music”. I haven’t listened to music for about 3 months for what looks like a different reason: I think music is bourgeois. I’m tired of music that’s always in common time and has 3 even choruses with lyrics that suggest true emotions rhyme in 4 lined stanzas. You might then ask, “Why don’t you listen to experimental music like Merzbow or John Cage?” Well, I don’t find any particular interest in listening to that music because at that point, I see no point: there’s nothing to talk about other than how reactionary the piece is and in itself, I don’t find any aesthetic pleasure in listening to aleatory music, just as some don’t have an interest in listening to noise like Merzbow.

    In the beginning I found it quite easy to live without music: I would be happy as I usually am, but occasionally, I would unconsciously hum a particular song in my head. After about 3 weeks, that ended. Now, after about 3 months, I can say that I am totally free of any interest in music, in the same sense that someone can say that they are totally free of any interest in going to church after they become an Atheist. Really! lol

    So, you might ask, “What do you substitute for the pleasures of music?” My reply couldn’t be concentrated on one particular thing, but for my whole life nothing could beat going outside and exploring nature and as of now, telling my love that I love them every day.

    Life is much more than a single note.

    Comment by Anonymous — August 8, 2008 @ 6:26 am |Reply

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