Maybe Next Time
I’ve done a lot of growing over the past two years, and it’s nice to see that some of my music has grown with me.
By Ryan Cox
For a long time I thought of recorded music as static. When you throw a song on loop, it doesn’t change between listens. The contexts in which I first hear songs usually solidifies the way I feel when listening to them. Songs that I used to listen to with my freshman year dorm friends or my first college crush still sound as though they’re echoing off of my musty dorm room walls. Songs that I used to hear at college parties remain in those cave-like basements. These songs tend to stay where they start. Just like with meeting people, music only gets one chance to make a first impression. However, like everything else, there are exceptions to the rule.
Like some folks, my music intake increased significantly in March 2020. Sitting in my room, I was constantly looking for new music to listen to. As I started to get increasingly tired of staring at my bedroom wall day in and day out, I also started to feel the same way about my music library. I wanted something new to change up the early pandemic listening routine I had found myself in. I asked friends to send me something that meant a lot to them. Actually, I don’t think I just limited it to friends. Camp counselor I hadn’t spoken to in four years? Let’s send him a Facebook message and see what the last song he cried to was. My old boss from when I worked at the pickle stand in my hometown flea market? Let’s hear about his first favorite song. Since my last semester in college—a time when I wanted to have as many experiences as possible—had reached a banal halt, I thought I could rev it up again through the memories of others and the music that accompanied them.
I kept up this habit for the rest of the spring and into the summer, and eventually my friends learned to reach out on their own with songs that they wanted to share. About a month after I moved to New York in the fall of 2020, a friend of mine from high school sent me “Leading a Double Life” by “Blue” Gene Tyranny. It’s an eight-minute slow burn that starts with a few different types of keyboards and eventually brings in two vocalists who sing in harmony till the end. It was a good way to start my mornings for the first few days of that work week, but for some reason, it then drifted away from me for a bit.
Fast forward a few weeks, now in that weird period of the fall where the weather is dipping its toes into winter but hasn’t completely taken the plunge, and I see the album in my library. The shades of orange on the cover drew me in. They reminded me a lot of the colors I was seeing on the trees outside, colors that I knew wouldn’t be there in a few more weeks. I decided to check out the rest of the four-track album and see what the other songs were like.
For a while, “Leading a Double Life” reminded me of my relationship with the friend who had shown me “Blue” Gene Tyranny (the music moniker of Robert Sheff). The two of us had grown up listening to music together, always sharing new albums that we thought the other would like. If I had just discovered “Blue” on my own, I wouldn't really have thought twice when I saw the album cover. But because it was music I shared with that friend, I categorized it differently in my brain.
I was mesmerized by the instrumental aspect of his music, but what really struck me about the songs were the lyrics. In this case, the lyrics to the track “Next Time Might Be Your Time” stuck with me. They felt clever, somewhat psychedelic, and undeniably down-to-earth in a completely cosmic way. When the song asked me questions—“What will the world be like, when we see each other free of all circumstance? What difference does it make? Why don't you take a break from whatever puts the pressure on you?”—it felt like the voice in my speakers was directly asking me to set aside some of the anxiety that I had felt at the start of the pandemic. They brought me a feeling of optimism about life at a time when I desperately needed it.
On December 12th, 2020, “Blue” Gene died in his home in Long Island City, just a few miles away from where I had been obsessively listening to his music. Despite only knowing his music for a few months and knowing next to nothing about him as a person, his death impacted me. I started reading up on him, learning about his days in Ann Arbor (my former college town) spent hanging out with the likes of Ken Burns and Iggy Pop. The fact that we’d probably performed at the same venues and walked the same streets in a town that I hold close to my heart made me feel even closer to this stranger that I had never, and will never, meet. I emailed an old professor of mine and found out that he’d played with “Blue” Gene a number of times. He went on in detail about how much those performances meant to him, praising “Blue” Gene’s creativity and kindness.
But as I was growing to appreciate his music more and more after his death, the songs started to feel different to me. His lyrics started to take on a more ominous meaning. I started thinking of the line “next time might be your time” as a reference to death, something akin to, “Do it now because who knows if there’ll be a tomorrow.” Even though he wrote the song 40 years before I would hear it, it felt like he had written it for me to hear right before his passing.
With the song bulking up emotionally for me, I found that I couldn’t listen to “Blue” Gene without feeling the weight of his death and its weird details that I had gotten so wrapped up in. It no longer brought me that feeling of optimism. So, like the first time I had heard his music, it slowly fell out of my daily rotation. But instead of it fading away like last time, I sort of watched it go. It never completely left my mental periphery.
About a year later, in December of 2021, I was in the process of moving some of my records around when out of the blue, Out of the Blue, the studio album by “Blue” Gene, showed up on the top of my pile (more blue than an episode of Blue's Clues in that sentence, sorry). I was reminded of where I was a little over a year ago when I first saw that album art with the bright blue sky poking through the center, and the next thing I know the opening guitar melody to “Next Time Might Be Your Time” started playing on loop in my head. As I listened to the song with some removal from the death of its composer, I felt something stirring up in me again. This time, the lyrics seemed to have changed once more. ”Next time might be your time” was more than a line about death. The next time the universe decides it’s time for someone to fall in love, that someone could be you. The next time two old friends run into each other on the street, you could be one of those friends. The voice in the song felt comforting, almost in a motherly sort of way.
It was still the same recording that I had first heard over a year ago. Nothing changed in the digital makeup of the song as I streamed it; the grooves of the record hadn’t changed in depth overnight. For a long time, I felt that recorded music lacked some of the interpretation and improvisation that live music inherently has. I thought that once it was recorded and compressed to an mp3, that was it. What you listened to the first time was what you were going to listen to the last time. So when the songs of “Blue” Gene Tyranny started to dynamically shift over the course of a year, I found myself questioning this line of thinking that I’d subscribed to. While I may have been right about the actual bits and samples behind the audio file remaining the same, I had changed a lot over that year. The song had acted as a journal of sorts for me to document my emotions over my first year in New York, meeting me at whatever point I was at.
My relationship with this song felt like taking the scenic route home. At its core, the song still felt powerful, but the emotions that charged those feelings had changed over the course of a year—from something more joyful, to somber, and finally taking on a more cherished feeling. I’ve done a lot of growing over the past two years, and it’s nice to see that some of my music has grown with me.
Listen to Out of The Blue