Pure Moods lives next door to me. I have no idea what his name is. I only know him by the music he plays.
I’ve lived through all kinds of loud next-door neighbors. I had one my second year of college who played the same piano riff on her keyboard, day and night, until I finally asked her to stop playing it at two in the morning, and she did. Then I had the neighbor who did lounge covers of “Poker Face” and the The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” and had a lot of loud sex with her shitty, shitty boyfriend, who treated her terribly. Last year I stayed in a hotel in New York where a loud woman screamed at her boyfriend for three hours that he’d “ruined her career” because he told people her real age. I woke up a few hours later to their headboard crashing against my wall as they made up. Once I was the loud neighbor: a French man who lived below me in Queens came to knock on my door a couple of times to tell me he and his wife couldn’t sleep because I “walked too loudly.” I put felt on the bottom of my chairs and walked on my tiptoes from then on, even though I privately thought he should invest in a white-noise machine.
But Pure Moods is different, and not just because of the music he plays.
If you did not grow up in the United States in the late ‘90s, you may have missed his namesake entirely. Pure Moods was a compilation album that went hard in a very soft way. It was supposed to be New Age and “World Music,” and panflutes and chanting were everywhere. It’s how most Americans learned about Enya. It had that Gregorian Chant song by Enigma that I always thought was called “Sadness” (“sad” is definitely a “mood”) but is actually called “Sadeness,” alluding to the Marquis De Sade. (I guess they thought that made it sexy. Having read the Marquis De Sade in college, I’ve got to say, his work is reeeeeally not actually sexy. It’s satirical, but the sex acts in it range from “Well, that’s definitely not legal” to “Well, that’s just not physically possible.”) Pure Moods also had “Tubular Bells” from The Exorcist (which I always got mixed up with the Halloween theme) and a techno remix of the X-Files theme, for some reason. I don’t know how many people actually bought the album, but the infomercial ran on Nickelodeon constantly, which makes me think they didn’t really know their target audience. (I listened to calming music a lot as a kid, but I also had severe anxiety. I don’t think many kids needed Enya as much as did.)
I don’t know when Pure Moods, my neighbor, first moved in. I’ve seen him only once, briefly walking into his apartment with a friend. Or maybe he was the friend. He’s about my age, almost definitely gay. I don’t know his name or anything else about him. I don’t even know when he started playing the music. I feel like it started pre-quarantine, but has gotten louder in the past six months. It started with the kind of music that gave him his nickname. Lots of earthy, New Age in a ‘90s way music, with panflutes and chanting, and always played at full blast.
None of it was bad, it just wasn’t what I expected someone to be blasting out of their speakers. Anna and I were kind of amazed at this. Back in April, we had been half-listening along to his playlist when the music stopped for a minute and I heard a voice speaking. Anna burst out laughing.
“Do you hear that?” she said. “It’s an ad! He doesn’t have Premium.” It takes a lot of guts to not only play your music at full blast, but also play the ads that go along with it.
Usually when I listen to music, I listen to it quietly. I have memories of sitting in my room at age nine, listening to No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom on my CD player at minimal volume, trying to make sure my brothers wouldn’t hear (even though they had that same No Doubt album themselves.) I think it’s simply because I don’t want to be judged. The thing is, I don’t have the best taste in music. I know this about myself. This is despite me knowing some truly wonderful musicians — and no, this is not a humblebrag, just a straight-up brag. I’m friends with John Darnielle and Rhett Miller, and I’ve met Lizzo, Aimee Mann, Jean Grae, Ted Leo. Questlove, Janelle Monae, and Liz Phair follow me on Twitter. I know good musicians, I know what good music is, I just don’t always listen to them. Or I do listen to them, but also listen to a lot of pure shit.
My issue is that I just am not into sad music. I really only like sad songs is if they’re in musicals, if they’re funny-sad like Belle and Sebastian, or if they’re sexy-sad, à la Prince. Otherwise, I can feel sad all by myself; I don’t need Adele or Sam Smith, talented as they both are, to help me with that. There are some exceptions, but if somebody only makes sad music, I’m probably not interested in them. And I think most people think that “good” or “deep” music needs to be sad. I don’t know if that’s true, but I often feel shallow for my taste in music.
Pure Moods definitely loves sad music. At first I was worried about this. But more and more, I’ve found that I like the sad music he likes. It’s often a bit over the top. There are a lot of very emotional Spanish love songs. There’s a lot of The Cure, lots of disco torch songs. Probably nothing encapsulates his whole thing more than the day he played a cover of Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind” performed by Sarah Fucking Brightman.
And yes, there are times when he’s playing music that vibrates through the wall when I’m taking a meeting or doing an interview over Zoom, and that can be annoying. But I feel that we have grown closer together during quarantine, Pure Moods and I. I sang along when he played Sinead O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”. Three days ago, I woke up and Pure Moods was playing a remix of Madonna’s Vogue. The next day he was playing some great New Wave music, though it was all in French. (You can’t really call it French New Wave, because that’s something else.) Yesterday he was blaring Tina Turner and Donna Summer. Today he was playing U2 and ABBA. I’ve been ashamed of my love for ABBA, Madonna, and disco for years. I still love “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Mysterious Ways” even though I know how cheesy they are and how obnoxious Bono is. But Pure Moods understands.
Is it just because he’s moved on to music I like that I find him endearing? Do I admire his freeness? Could we ever be friends in real life, if it were possible to make friends at all during this time? Things have changed so much in the past year, and his music has been a constant. What would I do if he moved?
I guess I’ll always have his playlist. Even if I have to make it myself.
Stuff I Did This Week: I did an interview with Jewish Currents, one of my favorite outlets, about my relationship to Judaism and politics!
Fake BBC Show of the Week: Urban75 Is Still Online (It is! The site I went to when I was twelve to pop imaginary bubble wrap and be SCANDALIZED that people enjoyed doing drugs is still up!)