Yesterday, I made my annual attempt to develop an interest in Radiohead. As usual, it lasted about 20 minutes. We’ll see what happens in 2010, but 20 minutes seems to be the standard. I have 7 Radiohead albums that people have given me and yet have probably played only about 10 songs on those albums. (Clarification: I’ve heard Radiohead songs zillions of times when someone else put them on or they’ve come on the radio, so it’s not like I haven’t been exposed to them; I’m just talking about how seldom I’ve personally chosen to listen to them). About once a year, I choose an album, put it on, and experience an immediate swell of respect and regard for the band, followed by an almost immediate lapse into disinterest. After a few songs, I realize I haven’t paid attention for the last 10-15 minutes and terminate the exercise.
The weird part is that I literally don’t have a single negative thing to say about Radiohead. I entirely respect them, find them utterly innovative and can immediately detect clear evidence of artistic integrity and creativity in their music. It’s just that I’m not interested in listening to them. Nick Hornby has a great comment on this difference between respecting music and liking it in 31 Songs – I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t have the book on hand, but he’s basically talking about some dorky pop song he’s recently fallen for and says, “And, yes, I know it’s not as good as Astral Weeks. But when is the last time you’ve actually put on Astral Weeks? It’s something like falling in love: we don’t necessarily choose the best person, or the smartest, or the best looking. There’s something else going on.”
I’ve come to think of this phenomenon as The Gram Parsons Zone– when there’s an artist, or album, or song that you consciously recognize as good and feel you should like, but it just doesn’t take. Of course, the name I’ve given is dangerously subjective– if you love Gram Parsons, or have never heard of him, then it doesn’t make any sense. But, I’m sure everyone can come up with their own artist that fits this description for them. You really know you’re in the Gram Parsons Zone when you feel both guilty and secretly relieved about throwing in the towel. Incidentally, the Gram Parsons Zone can apply to things outside of music. I’ll never forget the liberation I felt when I finally admitted to myself that I don’t enjoy transcendental meditation, Thomas Pynchon or herbal tea.