During middle school recess, my friend group consisted mostly of my iPod Classic. Within it were my favorite bands and albums, to whom I looked for companionship, comfort, compassion, consistency and other things we hope friends will bring into our lives.
These works and their creators were dear to me. I thought of them every day and trusted them to be there for me when I was upset.
Just like the few actual human friends I made in middle school, my friendships with the albums of my adolescence haven’t stood up to the test of time. There are new and interesting other things to listen to, and the old music doesn’t quite fit the place (of mind, of body) life has brought me.
Still, I have something I can come back to; I can return to old playlists and albums at opportune times or a moment of sentimentality. For example, I remember sharing earbuds with my friend Taya at middle school recess, listening to Fall Out Boy and The Beatles. There’s something to come back to, to get a reminder of what the time was like, and to see how you and the friend have changed.
The obvious issue here, of course, is that albums or bands are not (my) friends. They get to move around independently of me and my wishes, they don’t feel the obligations a friend should feel for me, they are not people; they are images. Even though the music’s creators are people, the way I understand the artists is determined by what they make public to me.
It’s weird. Since music is listened to mostly on demand nowadays, there’s no need for reciprocity. Whereas a friend might be at work, or you’re taking them away from something they wanted to do by asking them for companionship or help, a song is a simple click away. Availability is a really exciting part of music today and is surely one of its greatest benefits as a companion. There’s also something important missing in there, though. Friendship comes at a cost, but also an immense benefit. The willingness of each party to accept the costs matters, and just listening to music doesn’t engage either party that way.
Further, while the band has some financial (they need fans to keep their jobs) and maybe moral obligations to do some sort of ‘right’ by their fans, they don’t have the same obligations as friendship. As a friend, you have a say about how your friend treats you. You don’t get to control the friendship, but compromise and empathy are expected. You’re each equal parts owner of the friendship, but when you become friends with art or entertainment, you are just the receiver.
The fundamental mutuality of friendship isn’t there, but despite this futility of trying to make art friends, I (and I presume many others) have come to these ‘friendships’ time and time again, seeking emotional comfort in favorite albums from middle school. They’re loving. They’re meaningful.
One of my closest ‘friends’ during middle school was The Format, a self-described “desert pop” band with two great albums, as well as a few EPs and live recordings. The singer, Nate Ruess, went on to make “We Are Young” and a bunch of other good music with the band fun. The Format felt earnest and creative, kinda lo-fi and approachable in a way that makes their music a great companion.
I felt like The Format ‘got me’ in a way no one else would — which was a fallacy of my own mind, but whatever — so I listened to them all the time and followed the members’ work after the band. But I never had a suspicion that I would see them make more music or tour together.
On Tuesday, though, The Format announced that they would be playing five shows together. So, like an excited and nervous reunion with an old friend, I’ll be making my way down to New York next month to see them.
Katie Sims is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Resident Bad Media Critic runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.