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Ooh...Long Time No Hear!

1 February 2007

Last weekend I was grocery shopping, going down the canned vegetable aisle with my cart, vaguely aware of the soft-pop music playing overhead. A song came on – Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City” – and I hear a woman in the same aisle, behind me, whisper to herself, or perhaps to the song itself, “Ooh – long time, no hear!” and proceed to sing the whole song quietly to herself, with a joyous tone of recognition, like she was welcoming an old friend.

It was a small moment that made me laugh for a while. I think I found it funny because it’s part of the pop-music memory that makes up part (much?) of my subconscious. But I also laugh, and keep thinking about it, because the anecdote represents some essential truth about music and how we relate to it. Isn’t a key part of the absolute joy of music – one reason we all obsess so much – this pleasure in that moment of recognition, and in getting to know the song itself that well in the first place?

It’s something which people who dismiss pop music as frivolous – or overly catchy music as too lightweight – miss out on…though I imagine even someone who only listens to the craziest, most out-there music still experiences this moment of recognition when hearing a favorite piece. It transcends all the ridiculous divides music fans/critics invent about genres – it’s an essential feeling, that “ooh…long time, no hear” moment.

I can picture someone’s face as they experience it, no matter the type of music (classic rock to opera to hip-hop, and so on). That expression says so much about the equalizing power of music: how it puts us all on the same level, in its throes. About how a good song is like a close friend, where the longer you’ve known each other, the stronger the bond.

You don’t hear a favorite song for decades, yet the lyrics and music somehow all stay with you. It comes on, and you’re both transported back to its time and caught up in the moment at hand. You spontaneously exclaim, “ooh, long time no hear!”, and you sing each word, enjoying each one, no matter how dumb they are, no matter if the lyrics that once struck you as deep now seem stupid, no matter if you could never figure out what the song was supposed to mean. “You belong to the city / you belong to the night…”