I’m currently listening to So Much for the Afterglow by Everclear, an album which I haven’t seriously listened to in a number of years. It was one of my favorite albums of junior high, and listening to it conjures a lot of different images—opening the box containing the album on Christmas, playing Final Fantasy III/VI on an emulator, having a strong affection for the song Father of Mine despite the fact that I couldn’t possibly identify with it, a discussion with my best friend about the merits of the album, Sunflowers in particular, etc. These kinds of varied thoughts and memories become permanently associated with an album when I listen to it a lot.

A minute ago when Amphetamine came on, though, my thoughts took a right turn. I listened to SMFTA a lot when I was at home, but the swearing in it always made me be a little secretive about it, despite the fact that the album was a Christmas gift. Although I was a typical male teenager, regularly turning the air blue in the company of friends, I never swore in front of my parents, and I still don’t. This ethos extended to the music I listened to in front of them.

Then I turned 16 and got a car.

In the car, suddenly I had the freedom to listen to what I wanted, and at a volume they surely would’ve found excessive—one of the first habits I developed after I started driving was hitting the mute button on my stereo as I approached my house. Because of this freedom, I’ve always found listening to music in the car to be a slightly different experience to any other venue.

A car is really a terrible place to listen to music. Virtually no cars are designed with any sort of soundstage in mind; no amount of upgrading speakers, wiring, amps, etc. will change the fact that you’re listening to music in an amorphous box. Although I have a nice set of front speakers and an amp in my trunk that powers them, the experience still can’t compare to sticking my headphones in my ears.

That said, there’s a lot of joy to be had in listening to music in the car. I’ve been an overzealous steering wheel drummer for years, to the point where I once had to take my car in because the nut or whatever that holds the wheel on had been slowly jarred loose by my incessant beating on it. There’s something deeply satisfying about slowing down to a stop as a song winds down, shifting gears in a way that makes perfect sense with the cadence, or singing at the top of your lungs with your best friend at 2 in the morning.

Hmm. Maybe sometimes perfection isn’t the point. 

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