In praise of broadening focus

Recently I’ve been listening to a podcast by comedian Mike Birbiglia called Working It Out. Episode 4 is less his usual quasi-formatted approach to interviewing comedians and notable personalities, and is instead Mike and his wife Jen Hope Stein having a talk about collaborating on creative work with someone you’re married to, with Matt Berninger of The National and his wife, poet/lyricist Carin Besser.

It was a pretty engaging and informative talk anyway, but my interest was piqued by some of the snippets of songs that are interspersed throughout it.

Some quick background: My first exposure to songs, particularly anything new and/or previously popular, tends to be by radio. Such was the case with The National as a whole, via their big single Graceless, which remains one of those songs I can’t hear enough. (Fun fact: When we first started using Spotify, despite hearing quite a bit of music for four-odd decades, I put Graceless as the first song on my first playlist.)

Graceless inspired me to make a quick and dirty search on that album, Trouble Will Find Me, looking for more songs like that, please. And I didn’t find it, so I just moved on and figured maybe they’d do something like that again later.

Day I Die was their next big single from their following album, and as such, was the next thing I heard from them on the radio. And again, I searched on that next album, Well Slept Beast, for songs like that. Or like Graceless.
But it was another no-go.

Cut to three and a half years later, and I’m listening to this Working It Out podcast episode with clips of what were really intriguing songs. I made note of the ones whose names were evident from context or lyrics, and I wanted to find the handful of those that weren’t obviously named.

All of which begat me taking spare auditory time this past weekend–doing the dishes, etc.–to listen to randomized songs by The National in the search for these mystery songs. I wasn’t able to find all of them, but something else happened.

Given this screen shot of my most recent song additions, you could correctly surmise that I found… oh, I don’t know… one or two others that really struck a chord with me:

Here are a few particular favourites from the list if you’d care to partake:

Light Years – (odd video that doesn’t jibe with the song for me, but the song…)

Bloodbuzz Ohio – (“I still owe money to the money to the money I owe” is such a great, and catchy line)

I Need My Girl –

So, why am I suddenly adding a grocery list of songs I like from a band I’d largely glossed over before?

Here’s what I think happened: When I’d heard Graceless and Day I Die and wanted to find more songs like those, I was focusing my brain on those narrow criteria. But in doing so, I was (aurally) blinding myself to what else I was hearing instead.

It’s like being told to look for only sexy red cars. Your mind will lock in to look for just those. That’s what you’re scanning for, and you naturally filter out everything else that isn’t both sexy and red.
But in looking for sexy red cars, you’re missing the mint 60s metallic blue Camaro, silver Porsche, and the canary yellow Maclaren that rumbles by. (I mean, no one’s overlooking a canary yellow Maclaren, but you get my meaning.)

The point here being that in looking for a specific good thing, I’d wholly ignored what else was well worth my while. But in opening myself up instead to anything and everything that was good, I found an abundance of it.

Lesson learned.

Side notes: Since I got this screen shot on Monday, I’ve pinned down what most of the remaining songs were that are dropped into the podcast, thanks to playing the clips on my phone while simultaneously running Shazam on the same phone (yay, technology!). One bit was too brief for Shazam to determine, but there’s a ton of The National songs I’ve yet to get to, so I’m sure I’ll find it.

And one thing I noticed about the songs I’ve added to this playlist is that they’re each so good I want to keep repeating them, yet when they roll into the next one I’m still into it because that’s a good one, too. I don’t know that I’ve ever had such a condensed list of one band’s hand-picked music and experienced that before, and I’m looking forward to adding more.