There is one song I can't stand listening to. Actually, it is more than a single song, it is an entire album. If I hear anything on this album I would probably walk away rather than hear it. This is in distinction to many pieces of music I feel neutral about, or don't care for, or are think are stupid. There is a great deal of music that goes in that category, as well as music in the category of stuff I used to love, but now think has all the texture of styrofoam. Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers used to thrill me when I was fourteen, with their tales of passion and freedom, but now listening to that kind of music passes right through me, as if all the emotions I had experienced from that music were exhausted. As well they should have been, they were rather juvenile emotions.
Which brings us back to the one song I can't stand listening to, which is John Coltrane's My Favorite Things. I am sure that many people will get rather angry at me for this, pointing out that Coltrane is one of the most transcedental and spiritual composers of the 20th Century. I won't argue, it isn't because I hate this piece of Coltrane's work that I don't listen to it, but because I love it so much. Like any other thing that the mind listens to, a certain tolerance builds up for music. This is true of the pop tune that has a catchy hook that annoys us after the third listening, but it also applies to serious, artisitc pieces of music. Pachelbel's Canon fails to move me as it did the first time I heard it. I don't wish to build up a tolerance to Coltrane's spiritual vision, and treat it like any other piece of aural wallpaper
There is a reason that goes beyond that, though. I am often in the habit of using music like so many uppers and downers, selecting a agressive hip hop tune to wake me up in the morning, or trying a long mellow piece of trance to try to get me to sleep. Music is a means of communicating emotions, but it is also a way to cause emotions. However, when I select a piece of music to listen to, I already know the emotional state I want to be in. It is just the reality of the musical state that I am moving in to. In some ways, the music is instrumental, merely a tool for moving me into that state. If I could enter that state by clicking my heels together three times, I would probably do it that way.
But rather than just being a tool to communicate an emotional state, Coltrane's music functions as a very object of my emotions. It does not reflect some previously existing emotional state I had, but shapes and forms an entirely new intellectual and emotional state. And unlike the tunes I use to get myself angry, happy or pensive, I don't know what that emotional state is. The emotions I experience while listening to Coltrane, as well as the actual pattern of the music itself, is not in my memory
All of this is some of the rationale why the one piece of music that I find the most beautiful, that communicates things I can't understand, is the one piece of music I refuse to listen to more than twice a year. And every time I listen to it, I'm surprised by what happens, and how it makes me feel. I can only hope I continue to have the self-control to limit this listening to when it is only spiritually meaningful.