If I was granted three wishes, after world peace and environmental stability, I'd wish I was a faster reader. Then I'd do something I've always wanted to do… join a book club.
I would love to be able to knock out a 500-page Markus Zusac novel in less than 30 days, then sit down and talk about it with like-minded friends, all of us lively and opinionated, fresh from enthusiastically devouring a brick-load of pages.
Unfortunately, my reading speed relegates me to the slow lane of the literary Olympic pool. If I was to be in a book club, it would be one that met once a year, preferably right after the summer holidays.
If only a club existed that matched my daily dedication to music instead.
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All this wishing, hoping and thinking led to an idea: What if I started my own club, and instead of reading a book a month it was listening to an album instead?
And not just one listen: Multiple listens, with headphones. Maybe lying on a couch or bed. The whole album, from beginning to end, just like the artist intended.
But I'd need at least one other member, someone who'd appreciate/tolerate yet another one of my hair-brained experiments.
I called my good friend Ian.
Like me, Ian loves his music and, more importantly, is quite susceptible to indulging activities that are out of the ordinary. With his trademark curiosity, he agreed to help kickstart what we'd creatively call: Album Club.
The rules were simple. Each month we'd decide on an album we weren't overly familiar with. The genre didn't matter, the more diverse the better.
In the privacy of our own homes, we'd give the recording a bunch of listens over the course of a month, preferably with headphones, each time in its entirety and without distraction.
The aim was to allow ourselves time out from our careers, parenting and mortgages to truly absorb the designated album. We'd then meet up at the end of the month and discuss it.
You're never too old to unleash the musician within and there's no time like the present.
For our first Album Club, we decided on the self-titled Velvet Underground record from 1969.
What I expected, when the two of us reunited 30 days later, was an intellectualised review of a classic album between two music-loving friends.
What eventuated was way more satisfying.
Our first meet-up began as I thought it would: We discussed how the opening track sounded like butter, luring you in from the get-go, how we'd never realised just how beautiful the guitar is on Pale Blue Eyes, and how the record overall feels like a brain massage.
We sang the praises of the production, and how headphones transformed the experience.
But it wasn't long before the conversation strayed from the surface and took a deep dive into where our lives were at during that month. From the struggles to the successes, what peeved us and what pleased us, we covered a lot of ground.
Such conversations are pretty standard between friends, but all too often, life gets too busy to simply meet up and shoot the breeze.
Such conversations are often restricted to social events such as birthday parties, funerals, or weddings. Album Club provided a reason to spend quality time with each other without the pressure of a present, a plate or a dress code.
Just two friends, united by music, daring to shake up their routine.
Living with teenagers isn't easy. Living with inflation isn't easy. Living in a world that's moving at break-neck speed isn't easy. For Ian and me, it appeared that the simple act of stopping and losing ourselves in a musical body of work provided a refuge from modern life. Those 43 minutes and 53 seconds granted us space to pause and reflect on our challenges, to be present with them rather than brush them aside.
Gratitude also bubbled up, gratitude for our friendship, our experiences, our lot in life. It was honest and it was sweet.
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We said our goodbyes, not before establishing the next month's offering: Talking Heads' Remain in Light. But that's another story for another time.
We are now six months into Album Club, and it's something Ian and I continually look forward to. For us, Album Club is a quiet priority that simmers away in the background of a stressful day, providing focus and perspective.
It's no secret that music can be such a powerful presence in one's life. It connects friends and acts as a bridge between the grind and the glorious.
I hope I don't wake to realise that Ian is my Tyler Durden and the whole thing is just a figment of my imagination. So what if it is? Album Club is the best.
First rule of Album Club: Tell as many people as you can about it!
Julian Ledlin works in our national parks by day and is a writer of facts and fiction by night. Find him on Twitter.
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