Afternoon Dust

Why listen to music?

It’s that feeling again, that nameless anxiety, the squeeze of the shoulders and tightness of the neck, the shallow breathing: shouldn’t I be doing something? Starting a campaign. Joining a political party. Writing erudite polemical rants for The Guardian. Almost anything other than what I’m doing now, in fact. Which is sitting on the sofa, listening to music.

It’s August, 2016. About six weeks ago, the country in which I was born saw a media-orchestrated popular revolt culminate in a vote to leave the European Union. It was like a mass political version of the riots that plagued a few British cities in 2011. Smashed glass everywhere. Now we’re each sat alone, our hands still trembling from the bottles we threw, our wardrobes stuffed with stolen Nike sweatpants and 5-packs of Dime bars. 2016, so far the hottest year on record, in a century that has already seen fourteen of the fifteen hottest years on record. The fifteenth was 1998. I’m sitting alone, hands trembling. I turn on the stereo.

And the objects in my room, the children screaming with hyperactivity in the street outside, the neighbour with a limp hauling his wheelie bin back into his yard, the traffic crawling by on the ring road, the sweatpants in the wardrobe, the thoughts buzzing round my brain, are joined by something else. Something that doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the rest. Something that is quiet when the rest of the world is loud. That roars when the rest falls silent. That brings ambiguity where there was only black and white, and clarity to what was hidden in shadow. That lingers when all else has already hurried off in the direction of the newest distraction.

How to account for the presence of this thing in my life? To make it fit? It seems I’ve already committed to accepting it, to remain that open, at least. But the dissonance is unbearable. How about if I rearrange some of the other parts? Push some further away and bring others closer, make some more important and others less so? Shuffle them around a bit. There, it fits now. Now I’ve changed the world just enough to tolerate the tension it generates. Until the thing changes its sounding, and I have to change the world again.

Justification: I like the world I see through music better than the world I see without it.

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