Column: Songs I Can’t Listen to Anymore

Jasmine Zhu reflects on the role songs play in our emotional lives and the weight of the associations they carry.

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Portals columnist Jasmine Zhu reflects on the role songs play in our emotional lives and the weight of the associations they carry.

Here are some palatable phrases—love of beauty, resentment of self, crippling anxiety tempered by brimming optimism. Waiting around at the witching hour, hoping something manifests itself. Escaping into daydreams while something gnaws at my stomach.

There are things everyone wants that they don’t dare voice aloud. Speaking of them would make it seem too real, and to lay something bare is dangerous and potentially ruinous. Better still to lie on my bed, half-asleep at 3 A.M. The same song on loop for the past two hours. Someday, I’ll stop listening to it altogether.

This isn’t about depression; it’s about being almost happy.

Maybe having tangible dreams would be better. I imagine it’d be nice to have something to hold onto. I think I spend too much time wondering what could become of me, instead of what will. I spend a lot of time revising my own history, making sepia-toned mythologies. It’s so easy to forget about real life.

The past and the future seem infinitely more interesting than the present. The expanses stretch out forever; two vectors in opposite directions. I’m in the middle dreaming of either end.

Nostalgia is overwrought with purpose prose—people grow tired of hearing about other people’s halcyon days and half-baked fantasies. The topic has been discussed ad nauseum, yet here I am writing about it.

I’m already nostalgic about prospective futures, the ideas of leaving and being left behind. I’m sorry for being gratuitous and I’m sorry again for being self-deprecating. I’m too busy trying to subsist on a languid cloud to hear any other complaints you might have.

Do you think that if you’d said the right thing, she’d have stayed?

Is the feeling you have transient?

How will you reimagine the scene?

Are the images in your head real?

Why do you feel cheated of something important?

And will you ever be able to listen to that song again?

There are songs I can’t listen to anymore. The general idea behind my adamant refusal to even hear them—the complete blocking off of once-loved and familiar songs—is because I need the cauterization of some emotional wound. It’s a gut instinct, one that makes me hit “skip” on iTunes in the same instinctual way one would reflexively jerk away upon receiving an electric shock.

When a relationship has terminated, there are still vestiges of it that linger, frustratingly. I can’t get rid of it all—a sweater left behind from months ago, a scrap of letter—real objects, as well as more insidious ones. Certain songs are the hardest.

When I listen to something for a while, it’s impossible not to develop associations with it, to make it personal and relevant to my own life and circumstances and various relationships. It loses passive listening and becomes an emotional investment. Other mediums—TV shows, movies, books, art—they don’t carry nearly the amount of weight. I’m not as affected, they haunt me less. (I also lack the time to watch a two-hour movie on repeat.)

I listen to it, over and over and over, and I get my fill, and maybe this takes a while, and maybe I should’ve stopped months ago, when things had irrevocably ended, but I’m only human and a bit of a masochist, but someday, you know I’ll stop. I’ll have to. I’ll stop and find a new thing, new songs to imbue with personal narratives, and that’s just how it goes.

  • Eloise Hess

    this is great