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Binders, Guest Posts, Inspiration

A History of Listening

August 28, 2015

By Donna Steiner

I had a lover who whispered to me.  Not just in public, to say something private, and not just in bed, but often, as though we had two distinct languages, one audible and one intimate. “I made you pizza,” she’d whisper, and it was thrilling, although I don’t think she was trying to thrill me.  We were surprised by one another, gliding into relationship, building a new thing of hushed tones, notes and silences, pauses.

Throughout my 20s I lived in big, cheap apartments in central New York.  The locals called them flats, and they were laid out like ladders, one room after another, stretching the length of three or four story houses.  Typically the living room would be at one end and the kitchen or a bedroom at the other.  Living on the top floor was the best in that it was the quietest.  The other floors usually meant you could hear upstairs tenants walking, which always sounded like large men wearing heavy boots or women in heels. I thought of myself, then (and now), as exceedingly quiet, but I practiced on occasion one noisy habit.  I liked to lie on the floor in the living room and listen to music turned up loud.  Those were the days of large stereo speakers.  We had two and they were crate sized.  I’d lie right between them and put on “Jungleland” by Bruce Springsteen, feeling the base pulse up through my hips and shoulders and thump against my ribs.  I’d wait for the 4-minute mark where Clarence Clemons’ saxophone came in with a long, slow, lamenting riff and I’d feel transported, in love with everything.  And then I’d play the song again.  And again.

Once, perhaps in retaliation, the downstairs neighbors embarked on a course of John Cougar Mellencamp songs, a full album, played on repeat.  For weeks.  To this day, I have a bit of difficulty listening to Mellencamp, and the names “Jack and Diane” send a little shudder through me. Continue Reading…

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