“This half of the room is kind of obsessed with him.”
(recently uttered in the NMBx office, regarding Ben Johnston)
Lately, I’ve been hearing the language used to describe enjoyment and interest—of music, of art, of anything—take a turn toward mental imbalance. It’s becoming commonplace to hear someone say they’re “obsessed” with a song, or a band, or a composer.
Sometimes it’s slightly toned down: “I’m kind of obsessed with him,” with emphasis on the “kind of” to downplay the fixation. But another popular variation is the rapid-fire delivery: “Ohmigod, I’m totally obsessed with this song,” all in one rapturous breath. I’m still happy just to say I like something, or that I really like something. I wonder whether this cavalier use of “obsessed” might suggest a loosened attitude toward what had previously been regarded as unhealthy behavior.
Obsession in general, such as with a romantic interest or, worse yet, an ex-romantic interest, can lead to venturing into unlawful territory: following closely in your car or showing up late and unannounced to a house or apartment. Obsession in music, though, might be manifested in more lawful, but perhaps no more healthful, ways. Does being “obsessed” with a song or album mean listening to it on continuous repeat for hours on end? Does it extend to hammering out an overblown consumer review on Amazon or tagging each of the performer’s videos on YouTube with a five-star rating?
Interestingly, within my lifetime, the addition of the ‘repeat’ button on a CD player has allowed for the continuous repetition of a single song or album, paving the way for this type of “obsessive” listening. This same feature made the technological leap to computer-based music-playing programs. Obsession, in an earlier era, must have meant harder work on the perhaps-crazed listener’s part: constantly rewinding, or lifting the record arm and placing the needle precisely once again.
Being “obsessive” carries a certain stigma; the word is the first half of a well-known (and doubtlessly unhealthy) disorder. So to anyone reading these pages given to rhapsodic declarations of being “obsessed” with a composer, song, or band, I say: Cool it. Strong positive feelings on a subject do not constitute obsession. So say what you really mean, and try not to land yourself an entry in the DSM-IV or an appearance in front of a judge ordering a minimum separation distance from your iPod.