All the noise just gets crushed by the song

So I was remarking to someone tonight that Ani DiFranco was about to be knocked off the top artist spot on my charts. There are a lot of reasons why the Mountain Goats have made such a bolt for the lead in the last couple of months, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s representative of something bigger than that.

Music has always been a very big part of my life, but my taste has always been pretty eclectic. There have been a few times in my life, though, when there was a huge shift in my music listening (by huge I mean an all-encompassing obsession that lasts for years at a time). The first was when I was given the album Rattle and Hum by my then boyfriend Angus when I was 16. Before then I was still taping the Top 40 off the radio and listening to Mum’s Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Robert Palmer albums. And Dad’s Little River Band albums, but the less said about that the better really.

That album unleashed a whole new level of music listening for me. Rattle and Hum was followed by Achtung Baby, and I bought Zooropa on cassette the day it came out. Lyrics had never spoken to me that way before, and I spent hours and hours listening to those albums over and over again, analysing the lyrics and revelling in the music. Every person in my family wanted to shred those albums I’m sure, so they wouldn’t have to listen to them ever again.

The second change came in my 2nd year of uni when I first heard Stinkfist on Triple J. I was floored by it, and every time I heard that song something shifted in me and the hair all stood up on the back of my neck. When I bought the album Aenima I listened to nothing else for months straight. Nathan and I used to lie on the floor of his room listening to the song Aenema over and over, and every time the last HEH with the mad drumming would finish at the end, we’d look at each other, grinning like idiots. Tool opened me up to heavier stuff, and around that time I started listening to a lot of NIN, Pearl Jam and Live and I dragged out Mum’s Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd again, only this time I saw them in a whole new light.

In my last year of uni there was a smaller shift, which I think ultimately led to the whole DiFranco thing. There was Jagged Little Pill, which I have previously written about, and also other female singer/songwriters like Suzanne Vega, Jill Sobule and Sarah McLachlan.

Then, I moved to Sydney. For the first 12 months it was good – I was listening to music, but mainly what I heard on the radio, and I wasn’t out there seeking new stuff and buying albums. To be honest, I had other things on my mind. I even stopped listening to Triple J for about 12 months and started listening to commercial radio (in no small part because Andrew Denton was on Triple M in the mornings) so I got out of the new music ‘loop’. Then, things began to go wrong with the relationship I was in. It all became broken. I moved a few times, broke up and got back together a few times, and ended up living on my own.

It was around that time Mum got a PC at home and turned into a downloading fiend. I also started listening to Triple J again. One day, driving home from work, I had Triple J on and I heard the song Untouchable Face. I had heard it once years before and I just loved it the first time I heard it. I listened for the back announce and phoned Mum to ask if she could download the song for me, because I was heading down there the following weekend. Thus began another, and probably the biggest to date, change in my music listening.

When I got to Wagga she’d downloaded the song, along with near every other song in her catalogue thus far (because being Mum she was all about going OTT). I had no idea who she was, or that she’d been so prolific. I didn’t know that she was bi, I didn’t know that she’d started her own label, or even that she was from Buffalo in the US. All these things I came to find out later (through obsessing). I ended up burning about 5 CDs worth of her stuff to bring back with me.

I actually didn’t listen to those CDs for a lot of months. I started re-listening to a lot of the albums I hadn’t pulled out in a while – U2, my Triple J Hottest 100 compilations, Counting Crows etc. One night I was lying awake in bed staring at the ceiling (not uncommon) and I was sick to death of every album I owned. I remembered having those Ani DiFranco CDs, so I pulled them out and put on the CD I’d labelled Ani CD 1.

I was cleanly blown away. The first track on that CD was 32 Flavours, and then Fuel. Every night was a new discovery from those CDs, and I can’t ever remember feeling so excited by music. Every night, listening to her songs, I felt a little bit more of me wake up. And it was cool, too, that for a long time I didn’t know what I was listening to. I didn’t know the names of each song, where they fell chronologically, or what album they were from. Each song was its own little experience.

It’s hard to explain to anyone how much her music means to me. There are people I know who ‘get’ being this effected by a certain band or artist, but until I met Hellen there was no one on earth who understood how amazing this woman is. Without a doubt her music changed my life.

Never had lyrics spoken to me like that before, and never had songs effected me so profoundly. The first time I heard the song Marrow I sobbed until I ached, because it bought up so much repressed hurt and apathy and self-doubt. Thing is, when you hit the bottom hard like that, when you finally realise and look up and out of the hole you’re in, you realise there is so much light and the world is beautiful. She helped me to realise that. It was almost like I’d had foggy glasses and earmuffs on for years – everything crystallised and because clear and clean and fresh. It was a new start.

And through Ani I found other music like Tori Amos and other female singer/songwriters. I also started listening to The Waifs, John Butler Trio and more bluesy/rootsy stuff. She has opened me up politically and helped me to see my place in the world and put my history into perspective.

I get that I am the only person in the world who will understand all of this, and that’s okay. I know, though, there’s another burgeoning change in listening. At least, the last 12 months has opened up, again, a whole lot of other music for me. The Mountain Goats and Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse and Doves and Augie March.

I am a product of the music I have listened to. I guess, by that reasoning, over the next few months we’ll see what happens when a person listens to excessive amounts of the Mountain Goats. Hopefully I won’t start bleating.

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