Thursday, July 10, 2008


I'd refrained for years from using portable music while commuting to Osaka and back, not because nobody my age on my train has an iPod or wears earbuds in public, but because I couldn't bear the thought of experiencing rush hour from the glory level of Coltrane, or of being pinned against train windows with Nine-Inch Nails; it would be unbearable to crush through the business district with Satie; heartbreaking to arrive at my office with Concrete Blonde.

The germ of those misgivings was my fear that the sudden contrast between the ecstatic heights in my head and the actual pits of the day would too painfully expose the irrhythmic nature of the quotidian; that with such measures of grandness going through my mind I would find naked reality even harder to appreciate than before I began wearing musicians.

But as soon as I got back from the US with my new music-filled iPod and plugged in - or plugged out, rather - I found that I needn't have worried. Plowing through fellow Osaka rush hour contestants with the help of The Pixies, or shouldering through wickets with the Chet Baker quartet gives the mundane that surrealistic quality it's always needed, transforming a humdrum commute into a suitably bizarre art form.

And having all those stellar personas right there in my head to rhythm me through it all, shrinking hours of commuting competition into minutes of playtime, drowning train announcements in Muddy Waters, blanketing shrieking infants with the Mothers of Invention - idealizing the quotidian - is basically what art is all about anyway, isn't it?

And in this state of technoschizophrenia, hearing a music that no one else hears, tapping my feet to rhythms unsensed by those around me, lip-syncing with voices from other dimensions, walking to the beat of a different drummer as it were, I view the commuting scenario as a very zany movie by a top director with a sense of humor much like my own, to which this is the masterfully shuffled soundtrack; and I can walk out of the theater anytime, is the unreal mood.

And amidst the tyranny of transit, suddenly there are choices: Red Hot Chili Peppers, or train through tunnel? Thirty-three garbled public announcements or the Talking Heads? The guy next to me coughing for an hour or Radiohead? To say there is no contest is to say that the sun shines in the daytime.

Although the choice is clear, and distinguishes this virtual fugue state from true schizophrenia, it is uplifting to be a madman manque: to watch the commuter hordes massively lemminging down the station stairs to I Wish I Was a Catfish is to see by a strange and welcome light.

I hit 'pause,' turn instinctively to a fellow commuter to share this vision and am met with the lemming look, when I realize that base reality is in fact largely uninhabited at this time of day; so I flip back out and follow the lemming crowd, but not nearly as really as I used to; actually, I'm on my way to one of the many potential heavens I've just begun to realize there are: a company meeting at which my boss will sing Heroin exactly like Lou Reed.


Edward J. Taylor said...

Exactly! Though you might find it hard to listen to The Clash and not draw attention to yourself, moving like an extra in some bad '80s music video.

But, to do the lemming walk with Pink Floyd. Oooooh boy!

Robert Brady said...

Gotta keep from talking to myself so out loud in the crowd, though...

Val said...

Hurrah, another convert!
See "music to my ears" 26 June 2006