I listened to it on vinyl — the way someone who wears skinny black jeans and Vans sneakers would tell you to. She tossed her Vans by the door and sat down on the corner of the area rug — legs criss-crossed, knees poking through at the rips.
We listened to it on his record player — he settled the needle at the edge of the disk and disappeared into the kitchen, unmatched socks sliding over the tiles, the clatter of hollow cups against the countertop fading beneath the Arctic Monkeys.
Sophie and Imad told me I should listen to the Arctic Monkeys, so we did.
People often recommend things to me. Imad gave me a list of song recommendations typed out on a seven-page Google doc that I never close — he hasn’t added anything to it in a while, but even still, it has determined the names of some of my favorite bands. I have a collection of texts filled with recommendations — names of songs, artists, whole album titles plopped in front of me. It’s what my friends are listening to today, last week, three years ago; their new favorites, their old favorites; what I should listen to because I feel a certain way, or in order to feel a different way.
The Arctic Monkeys was an intimidating recommendation. I dragged it along with me through my tours of other artists and other albums, until I finally set it down and listened to it.
Refilled, the smudged glasses appeared back in the living room full of something translucent and sweet, the makeshift flavors leaving a numbness on my tongue. Leaning my knee on hers, his feet stretched out in front of us, the needle behind us scratched out the rolling momentum of snare drums. There was the distinct glow of permanent Christmas lights, and no one talked anymore.
The voice blaring from the album was echoey and famous — it sounded retro and modern at the same time, the stuff of decade-old punk rock a long way removed from passe. I watched Sophie’s lips, forming the shapes of the words as Alex Turner sang them out of the speaker. Imad’s hands drummed the carpet next to me along with the snare.
Another drink in. I traced a finger over the carpet pattern while the song changed.
The fuzz of an electric bass cut into the syncopated bassline — “Stop making the eyes at me, I’ll stop making the eyes at you.” Sophie glanced at me sideways, raised an eyebrow, flipping her mop of hair over her shoulder to make me giggle. He leaned toward me — “I bet you look good on the dance floor.” I wiggled my hips and pulled the elastic out of my hair.
The room spun along with me as I danced — “I can’t see through your fake tan.”
The guitar melody sounded like one we might have already heard, but the beat was different. The feeling was of something imperceptible, so I asked Sophie what song we were listening to. She leaned over and told me, drumming her knees, Imad his thighs, the beats superimposing.
I leaned back onto my palms. Alcohol soaked into my stomach, feeling like it always does but with a difference — I wasn’t at a party encircled with plastic cups, grouped up against walls that vibrated with electropop. I was noticeably dizzy, and I was comfortable. I’m not usually comfortable — I feel the alcohol falling through me, and I become nervous, my perception of the room around me collapsing faster and faster.
But the night was spiraling, and I was happy. I hadn’t the faintest idea as to where my cup had gone.
Eventually, it began to fade. I stopped dancing, and they stopped drumming their legs. We just listened, the final guitar riffs reverberating out — this was the album they had wanted me to listen to, played the way they had wanted me to listen to it.
But no matter how many times I look it up, I don’t remember what the album was called.
There are things I’ve been told to listen to sheerly for the sake of crossing them off the list of things I haven’t heard or for the sake of adding them to a list of things I like. Sure, the things that are recommended to me casually or in passing are things that are loved by the recommenders, probably as much as Sophie and Imad love the album they played for me. But when someone loves something so much that they sit down and play it out just for you, pacing you through it bit by bit so you can experience it alongside their joy of it, it’s something else entirely.
I now know Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not — I’ve listened to it from front to back, each minute dragging a volumetric feeling with it, and I don’t need to remember its name to love it.
Olivia Jerram writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on experiencing art through other people. Contact her at [email protected].