Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sharing Music: A Situation Most Awkward

In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie Garden State, Natalie Portman’s character places her headphones around Zach Braff’s ears, inviting him to listen to a song that will “change [his] life.” Braff complies, and the first few notes of The Shins’ New Slang are heard diagetically by Braff and the audience alike. Most of us have been in Portman’s or Braff’s shoes in our lives, either eagerly sharing a beloved piece of music with a friend or being on the receiving end of such an invitation. In my experience, this exchange ranks highly on the list of most awkward social situations.

To start with, it’s two people, often of the same gender, listening silently to a song for 3-5 minutes. A little weird. But it gets worse. For the sharer, waiting pensively while the song works through the intro, ever so slowly building up to that bit that makes the song awesome, is a nerve-wracking 30-45 seconds. For the sharee, enduring that first third of the song, wondering what in the world makes it so great, is equally difficult. Making this process even more tricky is the pressure-packed nature of the situation, which makes enjoying the song—that is, really listening to it, finding beauty in the lyrics and the music itself—nearly impossible. The sharee can hardly say he doesn’t like it; he’s practically compelled to like it by the enthusiasm of his friend. And the sharer is dying for his friend to confirm his opinion—doubt about his musical taste swells with each second that passes.

I don’t know the solution to this dilemma. One can always recommend that a friend listen to a song on his own time, but there is no guarantee this will actually happen. It’s also possible to start the song and then leave the room, but this might also seem a little strange. Music can be totally social, or intensely personal. In the end, perhaps it’s best just to keep one’s treasured tunes to oneself.

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