Listening to the Same Song Twice


“We don’t write songs, we write rivers.” – Mike Watt  

“No man ever steps in the same river twice.” -Heraclitus  

The two quotes above come from very different people. The first is from 1980s punk rock  bassist/singer Mike Watt. The second is from the 6th century BCE ancient Greek philosopher  Heraclitus. Mike Watt said this quote when describing his band the Minutemen. I’m not sure  what made Heraclitus write this, but I’m assuming he was doing his thing and writing deep stuff  about life.  

I bring together these seemingly unassociated quotes (despite the shared river theme), to move  them into a conversation about how we listen to music. For the sake of discussion, let’s follow  Watt’s quote and see songs not as songs, but as rivers. (Take that as you want to, there’s no  correct way). With Heraclitus’ quote, exchange the word steps with listens and remember what I  just said about seeing songs as rivers. Now, what I think we can realize from the new meaning is  that no person listens to the same song twice.  

What does that mean? Of course we can listen to the same song twice. Personally, when I find a  song that I get obsessed with, I listen to it over and over on repeat. But, I think the Heraclitus/ Watt quote combo raises a good point. Maybe ever time we hear a song we hear it differently. It  may be only a tiny bit different (almost so that it’s unnoticeable), or we hear it in a vastly  different way. Either way, the listening is never the same.  

Reflecting on this, the question of why this is true may be brought up. And to answer it, the idea  that meaning is always contextual is my response. Listening means extracting meaning from  the music. What complicates this is that our modes of understanding create the contexts of which  we listen to the music. So, we never hear the same song (or hear it the same way, in other words),  because we are always listening under different contexts. The context may be your mood, or  where you are, or what’s on your mind, etc. 

Lastly, the final question that I’d like to answer is why is this important? Why does it matter that  we never hear the same song twice? To me it matters because it shows that there is always more  to the music than what we hear in a few listens. Music is deep and unending, so I share this with  you to open up your ears to hear the many intricacies of it. 

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