I knew my priorities in life were out of order. I knew it was making me anxious. I knew I needed a weekend away to go and sort out myself. I didn’t know that doing so would cause me to hate one of my greatest loves, music, as a result.
About a month ago, I got away to Chattanooga with the purpose of assessing my life—how I spend my time, brain energy, love. On the first night there, over a personal-sized pizza (another of my greatest loves), I began reading James K. A. Smith’s On the Road with St. Augustine for no other reason than I wanted something thoughtful to read, and it was sitting in my Kindle app already. There in chapter one, I was met by a North African theologian who lived 1,700 years away from this pizza-indulging writer, yet who knew exactly what I longed for—a reordering of loves, a conversion from my anxious, unsettled self into a newly-liberated person.
So with Augustine as my weekend guide, I set about dissecting my patterns, rhythms, and desires to find the foci of disorder and refocus them elsewhere. Though it pained me to admit, it became clear that music was the very core of my disorder and anxiety. Music—the time spent listening to it, absorbing it, writing about it, reading about it, etc.—was taking up such a large space in my brain that I feel it was in a way (though perhaps not so obvious externally) suppressing my relationships and other loves and desires.
To paint a sort of picture of the grip music has had on my life, I averaged listening to 3-4 albums a day in 2020 and the first months of 2021. I’ve obsessively written down every album I’ve listened to for the past five years. I have a feed of music publications that sends me hundreds of daily headlines so I make sure I don’t miss a single thing happening in the music industry. Dozens of press releases hit my inbox daily. Twitter sends all the hottest and coldest takes from experts and writers across the industry.
Music journalists have the pressure of not only being up-to-date, but actually trying to stay three or more months ahead of the game if they want to be published and heard and read. And that’s what I wanted. That’s why I’ve tried to keep up with this insane pace of consuming music even while a pandemic rages on; even while having a separate full-time job; even while being in my first year and a half of fatherhood.
In Chattanooga, I had to finally make a confession: I can’t be a music journalist. I’ve been chasing ambitions that simply can’t work with the rest of my life and hopes and loves. Even my love of music was, I believe, diminished by my attempts to use it to say something “important” or discover “the next best thing,” instead of allowing it to move me and challenge me first.
Admittedly, I’m being a little harsh. I’ve been moved and challenged by plenty of music in recent years from Nick Cave’s haunting meditations on death and life eternal on Ghosteen to Kacey Musgraves’ sweet, butterfly-inducing melodies on Golden Hour to Kendrick Lamar’s prophetic words across a trilogy of perfect albums. Still, the ambition of a music journalist always led me to approach music with the questions “What’s my angle?” and “What can I say about this?” rather than first asking “What is the artist feeling? Expressing? Hoping for? Challenging the world to be? Challenging me to be?”
It’s been a month since these revelations unfolded. I came back from Chattanooga feeling relieved, yes, but at the same time, disheartened. I didn’t want to listen to music at all. The thought of it caused a visceral reaction in my gut, akin to when one consumes one too many personal-sized pizzas (something I’ve certainly never experienced…). Throughout March, I’d try on occasion. I’d throw on some Peaceful Piano while working or Beatles for my own carpool karaoke or Lenten songs during Holy Week. But I hated the thought of listening to something new or listening analytically or meaningfully.
Friends, hating a thing you’ve loved dearly is no fun feeling. But, if it is truly something worth loving, this hate—these visceral reactions and callous feelings—can’t last.Chris Thiessen
Friends, hating a thing you’ve loved dearly is no fun feeling. But, if it is truly something worth loving, this hate—these visceral reactions and callous feelings—can’t last. In discussing the disordering and reordering of loves, Augustine says that tension like what I’ve experienced the last month is to be expected. There should be a “resistance of what I have become to what I used to be.” I had begun to love music wrongly, perhaps exploitatively. That love needed to be broken down, torn apart, shredded, and then remade—remolded by a love for creation and creator (little c and big C), for the wonderful, unmatched purpose music (and other art) holds as a means of spreading beauty, emotions deeper than words, hopes higher than thoughts, and stories truer than facts.
This past Tuesday, two days after Easter Sunday, I felt the beginnings of resurrection in my love for music. The repulsion I felt toward music was lifted, and I felt free to once again enjoy music wholeheartedly. I know my relationship with music won’t (and can’t) be the same as it was prior to this month-long sadness. I feel no pull to return to those obsessive rhythms I held before as a faux music journalist. But that’s the purpose of reorder and resurrection: to strip away what was destructive and magnify what was good and right and worthwhile. I’m looking forward to leaning into this journey and learning to love music in ways I previously couldn’t have imagined.