I can never tell whether it’s ludicrous or brilliant (though it’s probably both) that something as essentially ephemeral and flimsy as pop music has such a hold on the most important moments in our lives. Every relationship, every city lived in, every single event is locked in with a certain song and you really have no choice in the matter.
I was living in Tokyo when The National’s Alligator came out. Walking around the city, headphones in, the album revealed itself to me as the city did. Everything seemed heightened, like a normal city overdosed on hallucinogens. The straight edges of the skyscrapers bursting up into the sky, the Shinto shrines and the brilliant otherness of it. And I was grounded by The National’s welcoming hug.
But it was something else as well: the paranoia and the doubt, the love and the visceral catharsis of that record were all the feelings I had inside of me. Even today Matt Berninger’s voice always transports me back there. I still have no idea if it’s my favourite album because of Tokyo or if Tokyo is my favourite city because of Alligator.
The opposite is, of course, also inevitably and unfortunately true. There are songs I can no longer bear to hear. That you have to go through some Eternal Sunshine memory cleansing to get rid of them is also part of the process.
It’s this lack of control that makes it such a rare thing. Miserable songs become joyous and life affirming. One-dimensional pop songs take on a depth no one else could perceive. And we just can’t let go. I mean it even happened to me with a Lumineers song last year. So next time a song comes on think about what you’re listening to because it could be with you for the rest of your life. And if it feels like it’s going to be traumatic, maybe put your fingers in your ears.