I store new songs – more accurately, I hoard them. Before I’ve even heard a song all the way through, if I like it, I’ve catalogued its most distinctive lyrics so I can look them up later and add the song to my collection. I have a note in my phone full of phrases from songs I’ve wanted to collect:
hold back the river
take Jackson out of me
what kind of man loves like this
I’m driving and listening to NPR. I’m not usually driving during this particular program, so the music I hear is an unexpected surprise. I like this band’s sound, whoever they are, so I turn up the volume and listen closely. I wait to catch lyrics or the band’s name, waiting like a hawk to snatch my prey from the air and go on with my day.
“This next song, we’ve never recorded,” she says during a break. “We play it very rarely, so we hope you’ll enjoy.”
I’ve been to concerts. I know the magic of a favorite song performed live, familiar but achingly different, comfortable but ephemeral. I’ve been to shows where the band came onstage for their encore and waited patiently, silently, for the audience to go quiet enough for them to perform their final song completely acoustic – no mics at all. The room held its breath. We could barely hear them singing and it was beautiful.
I’ve only been half paying attention to the experience of a new song because I spend the time anticipating experiencing it again. All the new songs that I’ve collected phrases from, I may as well have been talking over, for all the thought I gave them after I had what I wanted from them. Anywhere I have Internet, I can listen to any song I want immediately – but if this particular song was never recorded, that means I can’t buy it, or even hear it ever again.
That isn’t why I turn off my mental recorder, though. It’s peaceful to realize there is no gratification, delayed or instant or otherwise, beyond the next two hundred seconds of music. I and a few thousand listeners are the only people who will ever hear this song, performed this way. I’ve let many countless seconds slip past without realizing how unique they were, so I focus on these and what they have to offer. I narrow my world down to the now, and the music.
In my car, I hold my breath.