How Phonogram Taught Me to Listen

I tend to consider myself an open-minded music listener.  Some call me a harsh critic.  Others stoop to label me a hater.

Nevertheless, I am what I am.  But I owe quite a bit of what I am as a music fan to Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram.

For those who haven’t read Phonogram, the series’ conceit is that music is magic.  That metaphor manifests itself literally in the book as the main cast of characters are phonomancers—folks able to manipulate magic using music.

It’s really cool.  And really fun.  But it puts the impetus on readers to go about researching the music referenced therein for a better and more complete reading experience.

So, here’s me about the time I picked up the first volume of Phonogram when it came to my musical palette:  “Is it fast?  Is it aggressive?  Can I thrash about to it?  No?  Then [EXPLETIVE DELETED] it.”

There were exceptions to my tastes, of course.  But not many.

My appreciation for comics, however, wasn’t nearly as limited.  I read the book, loved it, became a bit obsessed by it, and needed more.  Much more.

So I read it again.  And again.  And then I scoured iTunes and Amazon for all of the songs and albums mentioned and actively used in the book.  It was Manic Street Preachers, and PULP, and ElasticaSuede and Blur.  Even Oasis—in my younger years I based my opinions of friends and family on their thoughts on Oasis.  Care to take a gander at what I thought about those who were digging on the band?

“Singles Club,” Phonogram’s second volume included the Pipettes, Robyn, and TV on the Radio.  I was reading the issues while listening to specified tracks on repeat.  I was drawing parallels between the media.  I even caught the Pipettes live in Philadelphia just to dance like Penny B in the first issue of the volume.

Mind: Blown.  Experience: Enhanced.  Eyes: Open.

No such eclectic smattering of work was ever presented to me in such a way.  It wasn’t a mundane list of recommendations any doofus with a blog could cook up.  It was a set of tools with which to dig into my brain and reevaluate my standards and tastes.

While Gillen and McKelvie may not have intended to teach with their work, Phonogram taught me a valuable lesson:  music is magic.  It’s a moment and a feeling, stamped into a physical object that can be released at any time so that someone, somewhere can experience that self-same emotion.  It’s a transference and transformation of energy.

I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of magic.

If it’s not it should be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still blast Kid Dynamite records with the windows down on nice sun-shiney days.  I still stomp around in circle pits at punk shows.  I still prefer my old tastes.  But Phonogram has aided me in creating new ones.  It has carved new pathways into my brain that allowed me to approach listening to music from a new direction.

Really, all Phonogram set out to do was tell a great story with one assertion:  music is magic.  Once the third volume is finally released this summer readers can relearn that valuable lesson…and I can have several more reasons to buy imported seven-inches from bands I previously talked heaps of trash on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *