Zia Hassan

How To Appreciate Anything

When I was a high school kid, I was told My Bloody Valentine’s album Loveless would change my life. So I went to a record store in Georgetown, found a copy of it in the used bin, and went home to listen to it with some friends.

“Those are guitars? Sounds like a vacuum cleaner,” one of my friends smirked. I couldn’t help but agree.

Years later, MBV’s album has become one of my favorites, and also one of the most influential albums on my own music. It wasn’t immediately accessible, and that taught me a valuable lesson about accessibility in art, nature, and people.

People, like music, can also have varying degrees of accessibility. They say first impressions are important, and they are, but that’s only because human beings are attempting to be super efficient with their judgment. We need to know if you’re going to help us or harm us, and we need to know quick. Similarly with music, we need to know if the piece we’re listening to is going to fulfill us over the long term, like our favorite all-time records, or if it will be a waste of time, and we’ll wish we had those minutes or hours back.

First impressions are everything, the saying goes. That’s also where the saying stops. What MBV taught me is that first impressions can be everything, but only if the person on the receiving end of that impression isn’t curious enough to learn more about your angles.

And impressions themselves are just partial information. An impression of a foot in the sand may let us know that someone walked on the beach, but it doesn’t say much about the beauty of the sunset reflecting on the ocean. That takes inquiry.

So that MBV record taught me to inquire. I wondered why someone would tell me that a piece of music is life-changing if I wasn’t able to immediately understand it, on first impression. The same thing happened with Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. I started to look at all the angles and noticed that underneath that wall of guitars, there was melody, and there was meaning. There was a piece that I was able to connect with, but it took work to get there.

Lost in Translation is my favorite movie for that exact reason. The pearl of that movie is hidden deep within its hazy aesthetic. The impression it leaves you with is almost unsatisfactory, but it’s just interesting enough to make you want to inquire further. The same be said, of course, about The Room.

And The Room, arguably one of the worst movies of all time, is appreciated by many. So appreciated, in fact, that James Franco went as far as to make a movie about the movie. So you can appreciate anything.

Try it:

  1. Find anything. A piece of music, a film, a cartoon, a painting.
  2. Get a first impression. Do you like it? Hate it? Does it make you feel anything?
  3. Inquire. What happens when you listen to or view it again, but this time in a different room or at a different time of day, when the light is just peaking over the clouds at sunset?
  4. What happens when you write a paragraph about what it might mean?
  5. What happens after a week of exposing yourself to it every day?
  6. How have your feelings changed?

The lesson, maybe, is that you can appreciate anything by getting to know it deeply. Every thing we encounter makes us feel something. We connect in some way, even if it’s subtle, and even if it’s not positive. That piece had a purpose in our lives. It taught us something.

Some of the people I love the most in my life weren’t people I thought I’d appreciate that much on our first conversation. It took getting to know them, seeing their angles, eating linguine with them, encountering an unexpected adventure, etc. to really have a breakthrough.

This could be you, with a mundane sandwich, tomorrow.

You really never know.