Structured listening.

I am of course behind again. I will be for a while, and that's fine. Partly it's because the purge has been eating into listening time I'd normally reserve for catching up; partly because playing the saved-from-purge stuff has been its own kind of catching up. It's nice to re-inject semi- or barely-known quantities, that I'd been intrigued enough to buy/request/save all this time, into the new-grabs queue.

I start each month hopeful. Finally, I think, I'll sit down and decimate the endless Word doc and the email Digital Promos folders both at once. I will fully catch up, at last. I hope that happens in June, because it sure as hell isn't happening in May. For one thing, I've gone to more shows lately than I have in quite a while--including a day-long noise festival featuring all women performers (much of it rather good) and, this Saturday through Monday, the Sasquatch! Festival, which I'm covering for RollingStone.com. So that's four entire days where I won't get to play whatever I want, however nominal that want is. And I've been roaming more--not just the purge relistens, but jumping on things when I feel the urge, such as this wonderful survey of "After You've Gone" covering nearly a century and 30 performances, which I went for last night.

But I feel like Slow Listening has been a success. Not because the Unheard folder has 28 albums in it I'll be lucky to hear half of over the next week, or because I've paid more attention to the music I do have (that's why I think this year sucks: very little has stuck), but because it's made me more systematic. I've never had a gift for physical organization (or, often, mental organization), but keeping close tabs on my acquisition habits has been really good for me.

This year has been tough for basically everyone I know. You too, probably. Money's been tight even as I've come to realize I have to move to New York by the end of the year, and I'm about to start paying back taxes I should have, but didn't, take care of long ago, back when I could afford to better than now. That's my fault, and I can deal with it, but it's been a long time since I've had to live so frugally. And I can actually do it. I really didn't think I could. I think in a sense, SLM has been me trying to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable lean times coming to everyone, especially critics, especially about music.

Part of it too is wanting to simply focus on what matters. I'm 34 and this has been on my mind in every area. Part of it is recalling my early 20s, when my focus on music, always, always heavy, became something I could see as a life. (I mentioned working at Sebastian Joe's and First Avenue at the same time in an earlier post--1997-98.) The listening then was structured: album after album, CD after CD. That's something that's faded for me with iTunes: I can play singles and make mixes and flit about with impunity. "Making the time to sit and play one folder after the other so I can tick them off the damn list" is not a description filled with joy and longing, but doing it I feel like I'm getting something done, and that's a kind of satisfaction as well.

Which makes this the umpteenth time that I've realized that I really like it when I structure my listening in ways like this. I've also been keeping track of what I listen to, acquire, and receive as promo CDs every day this month. At the beginning I thought it might be fun to print here, but soon remembered that "fun" isn't a synonym for "turgid" or "unreadable," so I'll just mine it for data. Hope it's interesting.

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