The keen netizen will be familiar with the viral video of a guy drinking Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice on a longboard to Fleetwood’s Mac’s Dreams. But before there was Nathan Apodaca, aka DoggFace, there was Sabina (me), and my very own, non-internet generated obsession with Dreams from Fleetwood Mac.

I am no Fleetwood Mac super fan, mind you. While not immune to the band’s captivating history of intrigue and breakups, I don’t own a t-shirt, I have never gone to pilgrimage to the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to see a pair of black patent spike-heeled boots signed by Stevie in silver ink, and I would likely struggle to name all the bandmates. But Dreams holds a special place in my heart. I’m perfectly aware that it is an egregiously basic pop ballad, but it’s pretty perfect in its silliness. Dreams is suitable for when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when it’s my birthday, and when we’ve just entered lockdown number 3 and I’m on my own in the office, writing about cybersecurity training, with full control over the speakers. I can play it on the Ukulele – yes, I’m white, and yes, it’s only two chords, but one of them is a barre. Ask anyone in my life which song I want playing at my funeral and they’ll all tell you that my coffin will be carried along the aisle to the words “players only love you when they’re playing”. Hell, put those words on my grave too, a forever testament to my fear of commitment and tumultuous dating history.

I’ve been through enough breakups and I’ve helped a sufficient number of friends get over their exes to know that obsessively playing the same song for months at a time is quite a common thing to do. I’m not new to the cathartic, comforting, supremely lame process of listening to Joni Mitchell on repeat as a rite of passage between relationships. However, I believed repetitive song playing behaviour to be a somewhat uncultured way of listening to music, relegated to specific emotional states or a symptom of a fundamental lack of interest in the breadth of humanity’s musical achievements. Something for the “we’ve been married for thirty years and are ok with only having sex in the missionary position for the rest of our lives” type of listeners.

However, when I moved in with musicians, I found that even the more musically intelligent can, and indeed do, become obsessed with certain songs just like the rest of us. I’d go months hearing the faint sound of Revolver, on loop, coming through the paper-thin walls of my bedroom. After Nick Cave’s solo performance at Alexandra Palace, the notes of Idiot Prayer

filled the house for much longer than anyone’s emotional stability could withstand. Sympathy for the Devil was played with so many instruments and at so many different stages of drunk that the Rolling Stones’s version has lost the privilege of being the official one, replaced instead by a legendary, gin-fuelled a cappella duet that happened at the kitchen table after a house party at 3 am.

According to a tiny study conducted by the University of Michigan, extreme relistening isn’t at all uncommon. In fact, most of us do it. As part of the study, researchers asked participants how frequently they played their favourite song. 86 percent said they listened to their favourite song either daily or a few times a week and, of that 86 percent, 43 percent listened to it more than once a day. 60 percent of respondents also said they normally listen to their favourite song multiple times in a row.

What’s interesting about the study, however, is what participants said their favourite songs made them feel. The answer most commonly given was “bittersweet”. Think Neil Young’s Harvest Moon while staring into the horizon, a single tear streaming down one cheek, a pack of Marlboro in the pocket, and a wry smile that says “the world is a mean place, but I choose to see the poetry in a sunset on the Route 66”.

In a way, this study, with its mere 204 participants and its dubious experimental methods, is a testament to the emotional effect of music and how we encode it as part of our memories. Because what is listening to the same song over and over if not an attempt to find the comfort of the familiar, to reconnect us with the feelings we are after without the constraints of logic and reason? And memories are always bittersweet – they are a collection of moments that made us who we are today, but also fragments of someone we are no longer. Even the happiest of memories is tainted by the knowledge that life is complicated, the awareness of the difficulties that came after and the past can be remembered, but not relived.

This could explain why participants whose favorite song made them feel bittersweet reported having a deeper connection to the song than those whose favorite song evoked other feelings; because ‘bittersweet’ is a much more realistic way to describe life than just ‘happy’, ‘sad’, or ‘calm’. It seems that the reliable validation we receive from a song we know and love remains just as good as the hit of novelty, that in the face of uncertainty we continue to find refuge in those songs that have come to define a certain phase of who we were.

And in the stillness of remembering what we had and what we lost, I leave you, conscious that you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt – I genuinely do have a better taste in music than my obsession with Dreams would suggest. And I was joking about the Joni Mitchell thing, nobody really does that, they only do that in movies.

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