I’ve been reading A Wonderful Creation: How the LP Saved Our Lives. Looking into what author David Hepworth affirms to be the golden age of the long-playing record (1967 to 1982; from Sergeant Pepper to Thriller), the book considers how our relationship with music altered through this span and how this connection has shifted since.
Hepworth’s reflections in this regard have much resonance for me. They remind me of sitting on my bedroom floor, for instance, listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, pouring over the album cover for hours. Deciphering the self-mythologizing lyrics of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’. Wondering why Ernest ‘Boom’ Carter appears only on one track. Feeling the blood bond radiating off the cover.
The book also brings to mind – to body, actually – the series of clicks that sound part way through my copy of ‘Thunder Road’ and the audible inhalation Springsteen inserts into ‘Backstreets’: “trying in vain to breathe / the fire we were – breathe – born in”. Then there’s the inevitable mix of release and satisfaction, sadness and longing I feel as ‘Jungleland’ fades out at record’s end.
Mostly, however, Hepworth reminds me how intimate my relationship with music once was and how it really isn’t this way anymore. I listen mostly by streaming these days. While I love being able to access the latest archival release from Gillian Welch (Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs), the recent live album by Joan Shelley (Live at the Bomhard), and the first recordings of the Flying Burrito Brothers (The Gilded Palace of Sin), I do miss the depth of engagement I once enjoyed with such works.
There are no liner notes with streaming, for one thing. As a result, I really don’t know who accompanies Shelley in concert. I don’t know the recording dates for the songs on Boots or whether Keith Richards plays a role in Gilded Palace. These may seem small matters, but they point toward the diminished sense of connection I’ve become aware of since reading Creation. Shrinking artwork is also part of this dynamic. As is physical absence. As is the fact that it’s now so easy to shift from any of the above mentioned titles to something by Nina Simone or Stevie Wonder or someone else, for that matter.
Recognizing this difference – feeling this shift – has me considering my relationship with the work we all share here. I know my concentration has weakened after fifteen years of internet access; I notice this every time I sit down to read. I also know my interaction with texts has altered with the advent of online shopping and e-readers. Have these developments impacted my relationship with the teachings and practices of somatic meditation? Inevitably the answer to this will be ‘Yes’. And some of these impacts will have been helpful while others are more limiting in character.
In his introduction, Hepworth makes it clear he is not arguing in favour of any sort of ‘better’ time: an imagined past in which popular music was somehow superior to what it is today. He is simply saying our relationship with music, through the medium of the LP, used to be different from what it is now. He is saying that, from his perspective, this is how things are.
I guess something similar lay behind the consideration I’ve been giving my connection with the teachings of late. I’ve been looking into this relationship, contemplating some of the causes and conditions that might impact its depth and intimacy. I’ve been trying to see how things are in this regard, trying to become more familiar with this situation, one might say. Which brings to mind ‘gom’, the Tibetan term for meditation, which is sometimes translated as ‘becoming familiar with’, simply ‘becoming familiar with’.