I’ve heard that the reason Space Mountain is such an effective roller coaster is because it’s in the dark. Since you can’t see the track, your body can’t prepare for the twists and turns, which is what makes it so thrilling.
Of course, the more you go on the ride, the easier it is to anticipate each moment. Every left, right, up, and down.
More and more, this progression from unknown to familiar reflects my experience with music, particularly when it comes to digesting records I’ve never heard before.
Listening to a new album for the first time is hard work — especially if you listen from start to finish. Like your first ride on Space Mountain, every moment is unexpected. Every note is foreign. Every lyric is unfamiliar.
Such a listening experience is overwhelming, and it’s easy to dismiss things we don’t understand because of that pesky fear of the unknown.
Maybe the first song comes on, and you think it’s pretty good. And then the second track comes on, and that one’s OK… But then there’s another track. And another, and another, and another, and suddenly you have no idea what’s going on.
You try to pay attention, but eventually the music wears you out. Twelve tracks of strange music is a lot to take in. It taxes your brain. You can’t get your bearings. Saxophones come out of nowhere. The lyrics don’t make any sense. That bridge is unbearable. The music assaults your ears, and you’re not enjoying yourself at all. It’s exhausting.
Maybe you don’t even make it all the way through the album. Maybe you decide never to listen to it again. Maybe it’s too much work.
But, as is often the case, hard work can pay off.
“When I was 15 years old, I used to hang out at a local record store. And there was this guy who worked there who thought he knew what I liked, and he handed me this album one day, and it was John Coltrane. So I took it home, and I put it on the machine. And I hated it. I mean, I really hated it. I just didn’t get it. So, I played it again. I played it again… and I played it again… and then I just couldn’t stop playing it.” - Mr. Holland’s Opus
If you have the patience to listen — to make that journey — again, it’ll be just a little bit easier. You’ll start to remember things. Little moments. Everything will seem a bit more familiar. “Oh yeah, this is the song that goes do do do dodo dooo… That’s actually kind of nice.”
I love this process. You’re literally developing a rapport with the music. You’re getting to know one another. You can see and feel the individual moments coming now. You anticipate their arrival. You begin to see how they all fit together. Lyrics that made no sense become a little clearer. They start to speak to you. What used to be a sneak attack becomes your favorite part.
And with each repeated listen, your relationship with each song gets stronger. You start to see the big picture. Until eventually you know every note and every word of every song, forwards and backwards.
It’s funny how our tastes change over time. We might hear a song one day and think it’s horrible, only to hear that same song weeks or years later and discover it perfectly encapsulates everything about our lives life right now. It reflects our every emotion, as if the singer has been in our exact situation and knows all our fears, doubts, joys, and triumphs. The music becomes a source of tremendous comfort, loyal and always there when you need it. It’s like a stranger who ends up becoming your best friend.
That’s when an album — which previously had nothing to do with you — becomes one of your most precious treasures.