Listening Parties, Liner Notes, and The Burning Edge of Dawn

It is apparently not a thing to have a listening party. But tonight, I made it a thing. The first expectant listen of Andrew Peterson’s new album, which I would have happily done (over and over again) on my own, but decided to wait for the company of my sweet roommate, who thankfully loves AP but had never heard of a listening party. It was clear attendance wasn’t optional, and she joyfully obliged. Grab a pillow, my friend, let’s open these liner notes and soak it all in.

Does anyone read them anymore? The liner notes used to be my favorite part of getting a new album. I’d pull off the plastic, wrestle with that pesky jewel case sticker, pop in the disc, and sit for hours listening over and over and over. I’d look at the pictures, read the lyrics, and try to glean some insight into the stories and emotion behind the music.

It’s how I learned the words to all six verses of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” and how I ever figured out what they were saying in songs like “One Week.” It’s how I became captivated by the beauty of Andrew Peterson’s songwriting. It’s when I started caring about what instruments were being played, and it’s how I fell in love with the hammered dulcimer.

I’d notice who contributed to each song, who produced the album, what inspired the songwriter, and who did he thank. Cover to cover. I would read every bit of that tiny print.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.

In this age of streaming music and digital downloads, the liner notes are cast aside. A forgotten concept in the world of music technology. I find myself listening to music without really hearing it. I recognize more songs, but I know less about the artists who wrote them. I don’t know all the words. Sometimes I miss what I used to love about music. I miss the concerts and the stories. I miss holding the CD in my hand. I miss the liner notes.

Tonight I am reminded. I am reminded to pay attention. It’s easy to glide through life without noticing the fine print. Without stopping to appreciate what is happening and who you encounter and why it matters. Without asking questions, or seeing the beauty that is hidden everywhere, or being thankful for the simple things. I want to stop and notice.