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The penalty of music listening
By Jonas Beals
DURING MY BRIEF and ill-conceived foray into the world of white-water kayaking, I learned a concept known as "penalty." A couple of kayakers I know used the term to describe what lies downstream from the rapids. The penalty is the potential danger should you get chewed up by the rapids. Is there flat water downstream? No penalty. Is there a 40-foot waterfall? Major penalty.
Basically, it's the chance that a mistake could force you into a dangerous situation.
I was reminded of the concept of penalty last weekend, when I discovered an old component stereo with a tape deck. Having not had (or wanted) access to a working tape deck for years, I felt a pang of nostalgia. Then I remembered the boxes of cassette tapes my wife insists on keeping in the basement.
I grabbed a handful of them, making sure to lean heavily on the hand-labeled mix tapes.
I did learn a little about my wife's high school and college listening habits, and perhaps what sort of songs she turned to at various stages of a relationship. I now know a date night is in order if she starts listening to "Driven to Tears" by The Police.
I also remembered what it was like listening to music 20 years ago. I'll skip all the whiny longing for "something tangible" in music and get to what I missed the most: the penalty.
When you consume an album or a mix tape on an analog medium like vinyl or cassette, you have to listen. To every. Single. Song.
Sure, you can push FF or pick up the needle, but you soon find it isn't really worth it. Fast-forwarding is a tedious exercise, and I long ago lost the sixth sense that allowed me to push PLAY precisely as the next song was starting. Besides, doing that takes time. You have to walk over to the tape player to do it. I don't have the hours or energy to spare, and neither do you.
So, we listen. We let it roll. And that's when some albums hit you with the penalty.
JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: Friends of the Rappahannock Riverfest at Farley Vale Farm in King George. A benefit for our own scenic river, featuring bluegrass music by The Believers. Saturday at 4 p.m. OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Nationals Park in D.C. Could Washingtonians get The Boss and the World Series in the same place in the same year? Friday at 7:30 p.m. LISTENING TO: "Peter Piper" by Run-DMC. The opening track to the greatest hip-hop album of all time, "Raising Hell."