Music to my years

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Emily Bi/Staff

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I get nervous when people ask me what music I listen to.

How do you say, “Literally anything,” without sounding like you’re just a casual listener, especially when I’m anything but casual when it comes to music? I’ve never known a reality where I don’t always have headphones in my ears.

I once dabbled in creating music myself. At the wee age of 11, I picked up a classical guitar — and have repeatedly put it down. But somehow I always find my way back to it, no matter how many times I go long enough without playing for those old familiar calluses to stubbornly find a home on my already tarnished, worn, nail-bitten hands.

There was a time when I was more dedicated to my craft, practicing for hours on end. In middle school I played for the guitar ensemble — think orchestra and band, reimagined for sad hipster kids who religiously listened to Panic! at the Disco and Paramore. In middle and high school I occasionally acted as the guitarist for a band, including the memorably named guitar-vocalist duo Ageless of the Arctic.

Note that my musical stints started earlier than this, with vocal lessons I begged my parents to splurge on sporadically throughout elementary and middle school. And as a little kid I frustratingly searched my parents’ CD and iPod libraries for more, more, more.

Nowadays, I’ve realized it isn’t written in my personal stars to be anything more than a casual guitar player who sometimes shows off how she can play most Taylor Swift songs and “Riptide” by Vance Joy. That’s valid, too.

The next big musical episode of my life happened when I stumbled upon the arts department at The Daily Californian and started writing mostly about music without meaning to or ever even thinking about it. Music is what I subconsciously felt most qualified to critique.

Thus, college was where I finally realized my concert dreams. It was hard to regularly attend concerts before I had the rich musical underbelly of the East Bay at my disposal, because my little San Bernardino suburb certainly didn’t have many concerts to boast of, and my parents wouldn’t let me drive 50 miles out to Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

With the freedom and proximity at my disposal, I attacked the Bay Area concert world with the same ferocity I had when I would practice playing guitar endlessly into night. First I was scared to go alone, and then single press passes meant that I had to either go alone or not go at all, so I went alone and soon enough got used to it. My freshman year at UC Berkeley was concert after concert, every other weekend, whether it was for an article or for my own interests.

What happened was the predictable: a few months ago, in August, I burned out. All my life I’ve loved music, and when I finally got the privilege of being able to go to virtually any concert my heart desired, I abused the power enough that it grew monotonous.

I wasn’t getting excited about going to concerts. It felt like a betrayal.

Combine this with a depressive relapse that made me not want to even seek out new songs, and thus came the realization that I wasn’t getting excited about music anymore. I was listening to the same old favorites, if at all, and more and more I was committing the heinous act of leaving my headphones at home. I quite literally wasn’t myself, because “myself” is someone who lives for new music releases, for concerts by up-and-coming artists, for the joy of always, always, always listening to music.

In the past few weeks, however, I’ve uncovered the next episode in my musical history: collaborative Spotify playlists. I’ve bothered a few friends into making these with me, relishing in their recommendations and feeling warm and fuzzy knowing they’re listening to my recommendations, too. It’s something so simple, so pure — and it’s given me back my love for music.

From musician to music journalist to simply making playlists, I’ve realized that the answer doesn’t necessarily have to be anything big. I don’t have to write my own music or frequently attend concerts. Sometimes you have to go back to your roots to rediscover what is was that made you love something so much. I had forgotten the excitement I used to feel when I found a new song I liked on my dad’s first-generation iPod. I had forgotten the thrill of simply listening.

Alex Jiménez writes the arts & entertainment column on consuming art as an artist. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.