JUICEBOXXX RECOMMENDS: Listening to the Radio

"It feels good to just listen."

It’s getting harder and harder for me to feel good about expressing my opinion on the internet. I’m just exhausted. In my last column, I mildly poked fun at mediocre Instagram livestream concerts — why? Who cares. Music is one of the only things giving me any sort of happiness in this world. I’m 33.

All I got is time and my mental capacity is rapidly diminishing. So, I’ve been streaming internet radio nonstop and attempting to listen to everything like I am 13 again and just starting to really get into music. Textbook regression, no doubt, but it might be the thing that pulls me out of this hole. I don’t know. Anything is possible.

Since I was 12, freeform college radio has been an important part of my life. I used to listen to the Milwaukee station 91.7 WMSE so much that I had the entire schedule memorized. When you are a kid, the process of music discovery is so special. It’s hard to articulate the kind of mystery and excitement that comes from tuning in at 3 AM on a school night to hear some DJs spin tracky hard house and freestyle. Or being in sixth grade and trying to figure out what emo or backpack rap or drum and bass means. Sitting through a 30-minute drone piece, not because you “get it,” but because for whatever reason your intuitive curiosity told you to ride it out. 

What comes after that is maybe not as interesting. The process of attempting to make music for a living can lead to its own kind of stunted development. The years pass quickly. Trends come and go. Ego doesn’t help shit. It’s not just artists. Everyone — writers, CEOs, Twitter users — has a brand to maintain, and that informs how they hear and talk about music. It can be hard to block out all the bullshit and just be a curious listener. 

I’m not any different. The music I choose to spotlight though my own meager channels is usually tailored to fit a larger sensibility, one that I have cultivated through years of research and failure and ham-fisted theories about “American music” or “rap rock” or “pop punk.” This means that naturally some music I love doesn’t get covered. There are times when I listen like a person who has a minor amount of skin in the game. Would this work in my tiny newsletter? Could I play it on my internet radio show? When I write it out, it seems so absurd. I don’t even have a radio show anymore. 

There are plenty of good and necessary reasons to think about music this way – most radio would suck without DJs staking out their position, most culture would be boring without passionate and petty stakes. But it can be nice to just be a fan. To take in music passively, with no judgement. Forget about your own manicured taste row preferences for a second. Open up. Keep the radio on and just fucking rock with it.

There is nothing better than locking in. WFMU. WMSE. NTS. I got a lot of favorites, but it is really about sticking with a single station for an extended period and letting it throw styles at you, no matter where they are broadcasting from. I try to look beyond my own insecure ego-based assessments or half-baked theories and listen. Pretend like my delusional dreams haven’t even started to form and I’m a tween in my bedroom again.

It’s not easy, but it has given me a small amount of clarity. I’ve been stuck in a weird developmental purgatory for a long time, mostly because of my prolonged engagement with music and youth culture. Though I am still interested in new music, some of the peripheral elements of these worlds have nothing to do with the real reason I fell in love with it in the first place. I have no clue how I am going to navigate any of this going forward, but for now? It feels good to just listen. 

In order to grow up, it makes more sense for me to listen to music with the ears of a naive 13-year-old than a confused, insecure 23-year-old. Anything is better than a depressed 33-year-old. 

Hang in there, people.

Juiceboxxx is an American artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His forthcoming LP is slated for release on Dangerbird Records in early 2020.

(Photo Credit: Brad Dececco)