Salvation a la Mode

I had always been one of those people who could tell if they were going to like a song in just the first couple of notes— kind of like Name That Tune.  Either it was too slow, too fast, too depressing—whatever I was feeling, or not feeling, at the moment.  I was not going to waste 3 ½ minutes of my life on a song if it couldn’t grab me in the first few seconds.  Aqualung by Jethro Tull was a prime example: “Da da da da DA DA!  Sitting on a park bench!”  Click.  Next.

I remember vividly driving down 80/94, one of the countless swarms migrating like lemmings to and from work in Chicago, mindlessly listening to the radio to pass the time.  One day, as I punched through one pre-set station after another, dismissing song after song, I landed on a station that was in the middle of a blistering guitar solo–right up my alley.  It was awesome.  I found myself playing air guitar on the steering wheel.

Then came the end.  You guessed it—“Da da da da DA DA! “


“Sitting on a park bench!”…

Imagine my astonishment.  I had just heard one of the greatest guitar solos ever written for the first time because for twenty-some years of my life I’d switched it off, sure that I knew the whole song from just the first couple of notes.

I had to hear it again.  I had to hear it Right Now!!  I flew past my regular exit and went straight to the mall where I bought the Aqualung cassette tape.  (LOL  Remember those?  There was no YouTube back in those days.  There was barely even an internet.  I had a CD player, but not in my car.)

As I drove home, I listened to the whole song.  And then I listened to it again.  I couldn’t believe I’d been so shortsighted.  I had been a musical snob.  How many other great works had I missed out on because I didn’t give it at least one listen?  I made a deal with myself right then and there that I would never again pass judgement on ANYTHING without first giving it a chance.  Without first seeing what it was really about.

I wish I could say that I kept this attitude confined to just music, or even food or movies.  But I did the same thing with people as well.  During college, I took a part time job in the summers at the local Elks Club and was dismayed the first night when I saw who I would be working with.

Don was a year younger than me in school and had been on my Little League team once, but I can’t say that I really knew him.  We didn’t run around with the same people and what little I did know of him (hearsay and gossip, I suppose) I didn’t like.

But I got to know him that summer and found out that he was not too different from me.  We ended up having a lot in common.  By the time I went back to school that fall, I considered him my friend.

These two events have stuck with me.  Nothing can be judged in just a few notes.  And while its ok to determine that you’re not fond of a song or even a person, we have to give things a chance.  We have to get to know something before we dismiss it.

It seems that these days, we paint everything with broad strokes.  We put things into groups.  It’s either this or that.  Black or white.  Odd or even.  When we do this, we miss out on the texture—the details—that make us who we are.

So the next time you’re in the car, mindlessly listening to the radio, banging away on your presets, do yourself a favor.  Listen to the whole song.