Enjoyment isn't all about quality. It's about timing, too. When you are hungry, food tastes good. The most memorable meal of my life was not a seven-course tasting menu with wines to match, but a plate of Kraft Dinner mixed with chunks of canned ham, which I ate at the end of a very long and exhausting trek into a campsite in the dead of winter. Timing, like I said. You know, I can still recall the first bites -- even the charred grit from the side of the cooking pot which got mixed into the cheese sauce tasted wonderful.
I don't want to extrapolate my argument very far, because the perfect meal would then appear to be the one just before you are about to starve to death. I don't like that picture much. But there is something important about our capacity for enjoyment that depends on context.
Which brings me back to music. Stumbling upon a baroque concert in the course of a long drive is a wonderful feeling. I settle back in the seat, turn up the volume and bask in the sound. But what if the concert is never-ending? How long can you bask? How long before you've had enough? I love a beach vacation, but I don't think I'd like a beach life.
(Another quick thought has to do with the chance of stumbling on the concert. If I have it on disc, and can access it at any time, it's not the same. More on this next time, I think.)
I've stopped listening to my all-baroque-all-the-time radio channel. I sampled down the remote, trying alternative rock, Franco-pop, and instrumental new-age channels, and have been appropriately amused, bemused, and lulled. I just this minute switched to the chamber music channel, and am enchanted by a hyper-romantic piano trio I really like and rarely hear. So I'll stick around for a bit. But I don't know how long that bit will be. What if the next piece sounds like sewing machines? A lot of chamber music does, you know. I fear boredom.
A few evenings ago I came downstairs to find Imo reading on the couch with the TV tuned to the big-band radio channel. She was smiling along with some very up-tempo Fats Waller. Pretty good, eh, Dad? she said. I agreed. The song ended. Next up was Goodman. Then Ellington. Imo's smile widened and widened. You know, I could listen to this stuff all day, she said.
Good for you, I said. I don't know if I could.
She laughed at me. I love it when she does that. Well, geez, Dad, of course not. You don't have any attention span.Maybe that's my problem.