In Bed With Bob Dylan
The writer unpacks her record collection and the lazy pleasures of a lifelong music listener
I often wish that being lazy were an Olympic sport. I would win. Doing nothing is a lost art, and I am good at it. I would be happy to medal just for lying in bed. I do that exceptionally well. In a world where everyone is proud to be overbusy and overscheduled, I have no such need. I am quite content to lie around. Alone or with someone else: They are distinct pleasures. And I have always been like this: Starting in first grade, I faked being sick so I could stay in bed all day, and I do that now. Sometimes I don’t even make excuses. Do I need one? Of course not: I have an active mind. I know that wanting to stay in bed all day is a symptom of depression. Very well, then: I’ve taken to my bed because I’m depressed. But please understand that I am having an absolutely fantastic time.
There is nothing like lying in bed listening to music. Sometimes it’s better on a sun-drenched happy day; sometimes I prefer the cool gray winter sky. There is nothing better still than a Sunday morning in Greenwich Village under the covers with Blonde on Blonde playing. You could fake the experience in another city or even in another part of this city, and maybe it would even be the same—but when it comes to sensual matters, the details count. And it really works. I have been spending Sundays with Dylan for a long time now. I have done it in cassette and vinyl and CD and mp3, because it doesn’t matter. (This point is so obvious that it is necessarily parenthetical: Nothing sounds better than an LP, but nothing feels better than not having to flip it over three times.) What matters is that there are people who may get their clients a consistent 12 percent return on investment and there are others who run corporate empires, but I am sure their lives are not anywhere near as rich as mine is, because they don’t know what I know. Just being a great listener to music has made my life impossibly sweet. And all the while, it has kept me clear of any of the many industries that are really just hastening civilization’s decline. Or maybe it has kept me in my nightgown. I have many lovely lacy nightgowns.
I realize that as with everything else, there’s an app for this, for being a connoisseur of listenization. There is Spotify, and I am sure there is the advanced beginners version of it for people who don’t have time to listen and just want to impress expensive body parts over dinner at NoMad—or invest more wisely in the entertainment and media sectors. But there does not exist an app for living well and loving what you love and, in my case, not being at all interested in anybody else’s taste in music because I have more than enough of my own, and I will keep it with mine. (Actually, probably there is an app for that too.) When someone says, There is something you have to hear, that is a cue for me to leave. I am the opposite of interested. I am so uninterested as to not believe what I just heard. I eschew other people’s likes.
I discover new bands all the time because I love a song in a movie or something I hear having a glass of wine at a bar. I have seen great bands on Saturday Night Live over the years; it surprises me to say that. I don’t know how many albums I have bought because the lead singer is hot, but it turns out that good looks really are a proxy for talent, or else the Lemonheads and the Old 97s would not be so fun. (Go ahead and be angry all you want, but you can’t make Paul Newman a bad actor either, and you can’t possibly make Jennifer Lawrence less adorable.) I have never been turned on to music by a boyfriend, because only stupid girls listen to what men do and don’t figure it out for themselves. The longer I live, the more it looks like the world is full of stupid girls. Some of my best friends are stupid girls. Men email me YouTube videos to watch all the time, and the more I like them, the more I don’t click the link. So there.
I recently moved, which means that once again, I had reason to unpack my music, or what is now known as content. I have had a lot of my LPs since high school and my CDs since college. I have the first Foreigner album on cassette tape, and I must have bought that in seventh grade. I will never again be able to listen to my eight-tracks of Saturday Night Fever or Andy Gibb. My Beatles albums belonged to my parents, and Apple Records made such fine, thick vinyl that they are as slick and shiny as the blacked-out screen of an iPad at rest, which is of course the thing that has made those disks the decorative relics of sentimental hoarders and stereophiles. Filing my music collection in alphabetical order, I felt how long my life has been and also how much the world has changed: The pictures literally have gotten smaller, from the significance of LP’s to the small squares on CD jewel boxes to the thumbprint of an mp3. Who even listens to an entire album anymore anyway? Just as email has made us a 19th-century epistolary society once again—except, of course, that no one knows how to be expressive—iTunes has returned us to the mid-20th century and the hit single. Where is Alan Freed when we need him? The songs are smaller. The bands are smaller. Quite honestly, life is smaller.
I wonder if there will ever be another rock star. Probably not. Axl Rose was the last one in the sense of having a drug problem, dating a centerfold, showing up onstage at Madison Square Garden two hours and 15 minutes late to an audience that continued to sit and wait. No one would sit and wait anymore. Too exhausted. And the whole point is to post that it happened on Facebook, not to have the experience. Kurt Cobain was an anti-rock star. That was good too. Eminem: maybe. Jay-Z is a businessman—it’s not that he isn’t talented, but he is a professional, the kingpin of an entertainment conglomerate. The opposite of a rock star is a professional. He is the platform and the content. And really, ideally you are the platform, even if that makes you inanimate: People now form lines around the corner not to buy a new album but because a new iPhone is out. Then they use it to send text messages mostly, or to do something they could have done two devices ago, but in any case the wait begins at 4:45 a.m. Which is to say that the party is over. Or maybe standing there as the dark of night becomes the light of day and the Apple Store opens for business is the fun part. Steve Jobs was weirdly both a rock star and a professional, so it figures he would check out before this got any worse.
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