Wednesday, November 23, 2005

iPod of Plenty

I’ve discovered something quite strange about maintaining a blog. If I haven’t updated for a few days, I go to the site expecting to see new material, as if someone else would’ve updated it for me.

Alas, it’s up to me to keep this fresh (or less stale, as the case may be). But in addition to the impending holiday, I’ve been distracted by putting my music collection onto my computer and then my iPod. When you combine my obsessive-compulsive tendencies with my bone-deep music geekdom, the whole project is a bit dizzying. It’s probably not wise to try to transfer the contents of 600 CDs in just a few days, but I’m doing my damnedest. Send water.

It turns out that bringing an iPod into my life has made me reassess some of my foundational thinking – about things like singles vs. albums, guilty pleasures, and even gratification vs. longing.

In college, Ray and I were fairly adamant about the primacy of the cohesive album. (If you don’t know who Ray is yet, start taking better notes. And if my constant switching between “record,” “album,” and “CD” drives you crazy, tell me what the hell you call it these days.) By allowing you to deselect certain songs from albums, not to mention its shuffle function, the iPod is the culmination of a long series of events that sorely tests that primacy. It might be true that the increasingly singles-driven music culture has produced a disinterest in cohesion, but I think it still exists in traces, and I hope when I come across it – like Trouble by Ray LaMontagne or Original Pirate Material by The Streets – I’ll listen to it continuously on the iPod, at least for a while, as I would on my stereo.

As for guilty pleasures, they once existed mostly on the periphery of consciousness. Many of them fell under the umbrella of what I call “bodega music,” those radio-friendly hits that you would never admit to liking but don’t mind tapping your foot to while shopping for milk. There was never any danger that the next day you would spend $17 for the CD – or even $5 or $6 for the single. Now, though, for just 99 cents, you can bring the bodega home. And you don’t even have to face the shame of handing the product to the music-snob cashier. It’s a terrifying but instructive experience to stare at iTunes and linger over whether to buy “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson. (Why are you lingering? No one’s watching. Just click, you coward!) My feeling is that the new technology will render the whole idea of guilty pleasures a thing of the past. With such easy access, and with the ability for friends to scroll through your oeuvre – thus keeping the bodega music in context – why feel guilt?

(Of course, don’t listen to me – I still feel guilt. Lots of it. And not just about songs.)

It’s been a thrill to have an excuse to listen to a lot of music I haven’t turned to in ages, but I also feel a gnawing sense of fear. Having all of this at my fingertips, at all times, seems potentially overwhelming. I’ve always strongly believed – the way I strongly believe in many clichés – that having what you want when you want will not just fail to make you happy, but might drive you insane. There’s the school of delayed gratification, of course, but that just seems like the same thing at a slower rpm – isn’t delayed gratification still gratification? And am I really making an argument for the preferability of longing over satisfaction? Maybe.

It used to be that I had to make a decision about which CD to pop in my Discman before I got on the subway in the morning. I was often in the mood for something sleepy and pastoral, it being the morning, like Beth Orton or The Innocence Mission. After the first few sharp elbows on a crowded F car, though, I would be ready for something more violent. But there I was, stuck with the pastoral. So I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m ecstatic. Still, I feel like I’ve quenched a strong yearning in the music department, and yearning always appears sweeter in the rearview mirror.



Blogger Dezmond said...

I too got into the whole iPod thing. But I use the word "iPod" as many people use Kleenex for tissue or Xerox for copy machine. I actually bought cheaper knock-off brands (the "Nomad"...quantity over quality, my music collection was so vast I bought two Nomads to fill vs. just one iPod). Anyway, the Nomads are fine, although freeze up from time to time (the way to fix is to take out the battery and then put it back in). I spent many sleepless nights filling my Nomads.

But for some reason, the filling was the pleasure, and now I carry around my CDs again for some weird reason.

But, to your point regarding albums vs. songs. That was one of the best things about my Nomad/iPod experience: I rediscovered full albums again. I was traveling quite a bit for work during that time (often driving across great expanses of Texas [most distances between Texas cities would dwarf entire NE states]), and so I would get to listen to great records from start to finish. It is so exceedingly rare to have brilliant albums from start to finish. I won't even say "these days", that statement applies to all eras. (In my many Top 100 or 200 or whatever number Albums Lists, the live record "Live Rust" by Neil Young frequently tops the list, but that isn't fair because it is a live album. And while it has an unmistakeable cohesion, the songs do span over a decade as far as when they were originally written. So that doesn't count. I would say U2's "Joshua Tree" comes the closest to a perfect record that I can think of. From memory: "Where the Streets Have No Name", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "With Or Without You", "Bullet the Blue Sky", "Running To Stand Still", "Red Hill Mining Town", "In God's Country", "Trip Through Your Wires", "One Tree Hill", "Exit" and "Mothers of the Disappeared"...can you point out a weak link there? Even the lighter fare-"I Trip Through Your Wires"-come at a perfect point moodwise. If you want ot break it down, Side 1 is the most perfect side of a record, and actually, they could have stopped with the first three songs and it still would be a brilliant record. Breaking it down further, those first three songs are the best 1-2-3 punch of any record ever.)

Uh, what was I saying? Oh yeah, that the Nomad/iPod allowed me to rediscover great albums again as their own entities. Of course, now that I am back to CDs, for some reason, I don't listen to those all the way through as I would a record on the NoPod. I am now obsessed with making the perfect mixes and box sets on CD. I am all about the representative mix that would be perfect for the neophyte and diehard alike for all of my favorite bands. It is strange that the CD format and the iMad format both allow for full records and mixes, yet with the NiMod I focused on full albums and with my discs I focus on the elusive perfect mix.

1:12 PM  
Blogger helen_boyd said...

I have a love/hate relationship with my iPod. While I love regaining some songs - here I'll date myself - that I lost because *the album was too long for a cassette side* - it's also just too much.

there was a poem
of ancient rome
about a dog
who found two bones
he licked the one
he licked the other
he went in circles
till he dropped dead

yeah. that's how i feel about my iPod.

(that's devo, by the way.)

10:56 PM  

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