Trying to Listen Closely

I was nine years old when my dad gave me The Beatles’ White Album and unknowingly created a monster.

Up to that point, I had some interest in music, but nothing beyond a sampling of radio hits and commercial jingles. I had ventured out into the world of movie soundtracks, but nothing could have prepared me for the education my father’s purchase would provide.

I recall my skepticism as I looked at an album with no cover art full of odd song titles. “Is it like a ‘best of’?” I asked. “Well… sort of,” my dad replied with a smile.

I listened to that album all the way through what feels like hundreds of times, and with each spin, I discovered something new. The background vocals. The animal noises. The wry lyricism.

To this day, it remains my favorite Beatles album and favorite album ever. Its scope remains enormous, a long journey through vastly different musical styles and movements, a collection of contrasting influences and approaches that somehow coalesces into a perfect work of art.

I’m telling you because hearing that album gave me a hopelessly voracious appetite for music. I “do” music now professionally as a worship pastor here in San Antonio, but even before the career change, I couldn’t get away from music. Concerts, festivals, instruments, illegal downloads – I consume more music than some might consider possible.

But an enduring lesson of the White Album is that quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality. There have been scores of double albums released since The Beatles’ self-titled masterpiece, but very few have justified their length. So while I listen to a lot of music, I’m very much interested in studying it, understanding it, and if possible, explaining it.

Music opened my ears, but it also opened my heart and my mind. The best of it, for me, has new things to tell us, new sounds for us to hear, new ways to express deep emotions. Writing about all this is fun because it matters to me. Hopefully, reading about it can be fun, too.

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