Friday, October 10, 2008

iPod confessions

The iPod has revolutionized how we collect, listen to and store music on so many levels that it's hard to even know where to begin. As a teenager, a point of pride was my stereo, which consisted on carefully matched "components," preferably manufactured by different companies . . . the better to show off your knowledge of who made the best turntable (Dual), the best receiver (Harmon Kardon or MacIntosh) or best tape deck (a toss-up between Denon and Sony). Then there was the issue of appropriate speakers -- the "reflecting" Bose 901s, which cost about the same as a small house in a nice Atlanta neighborhood, JBLs, for superior bass response, or Infinity, if, like me, you liked crystal clear high-ends so you could hear the ride cymbals of great drummers like Roy Haynes or Bill Bruford, or wonder if Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet or Jimmy Page's guitar could really shatter glass. Then, of course, you had to buy albums -- never prerecorded cassettes, which had inferior fidelity to albums recorded onto blank tape (Maxell, of course) -- to play on your carefully chosen stereo. Was it worth it to buy the imported version of your favorite band's records on the hunch that it was better than the American counterpart? On top of all this, you had to clean the record, everytime you played it, with a Discwasher3 cleaning kit . . . coming after you had applied Sound Guard to the record to protect it from the stylus, which the discerning buyer bought separately from the stylus that came with the turntable. The even more discerning buyer, who some might call a true freak, the kind of person who still lives with his parents at 46 because he still spends all his money on comic books and "audiophile" equipment, would buy the tone arm separately from turntable and the stylus.

Except for lunatics slavishly devoted to high-end audio, nobody puts much thought into buying stereo equipment anymore. People buy "sound systems," preferably all-in-ones to save space, and buy a cord to link to their iPod. Forget albums. How many people are still buying CDs (besides me)? As I wrote last year on the tragic demise of record stores, displaying your albums -- very much, admittedly, a guy thing -- was a point of pride. "Wow, where did you get that imported version of "Dark Side of the Moon," a new visitor might ask. "I noticed that your album has a blue outline around the front. Mine doesn't. Cool." That doesn't happen anymore. My son, for example, just views CDs as transfer medium to get music onto his iPod. And since he listens to music through his headphones more than through conventional speakers, I don't really know what he's listening to until I see his iPod library. As a teen-ager, I only listened to music through headphones when my parents didn't wanted quiet. Later, in college, I began to listen to more music through headphones, usually late at night or very early in the morning (as in 1 or 2 a.m., not 6 or 7 a.m.) to get the full effect of "On the Run," by Pink Floyd or "The Gates of Delerium," by Yes in a somewhat herbally-enhanced state of mind. The headphones were big and clunky, like the kind Keith Moon wore during live renditions of "Won't Get Fooled Again" so he could hear the keyboard part over the Peter Townsend's guitar.

Yes. Cool it was. And I knew it.

But what no one knew is that I kept a stash of records back in my closet, behind abandoned tennis rackets, board games and too-small shoes of albums I liked but dared not display in public. Go ahead, I'd think to myself, check out my complete Yes collection, including the album version of a broadcast from the King Biscuit Flower Hour. Oh, you like the bootleg of the 1976 Genesis tour where they played "White Mountain?" Good luck finding that at Tower, because you won't. "Who is Thelonious Monk?" a friend entering my music space for the first time would want to know. And I'd try to explain, knowing full well he just wouldn't get it.

No, no . . . behind the cool albums, plus the two or three I kept out on display so that my friends could see just how many cool and hard-to-find albums I had, were my old Monkees' records with "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer" on them. And, yes, the Carpenters, with Karen Carpenter seductively singing, "We've Only Just Begun," a song that I had to sing at my 7th grade graduation ceremony. Like every other self-described cool guy, I feigned disgust at that song. Secretly, though, I loved it, just like I loved "Top of the World." And there were more, coming in the form of 45s that I bought before I became too cool to buy singles (or at least too cool to buy them in front of my friends): "Ride Captain Ride," "Spirit in the Sky" and "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," and "Patches," a song that always made me cry when I listened to it.

Now, you can hide all your music on your iPod so that no one knows what guilty pleasures you're indulging when no one's looking. Does anyone really know, for example, when you're sitting in a coffee shop pecking away on your "work" that you're listening to, say, "One Toke Over The Line, (Sweet Jesus)" by Brewer and Shipley or "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You," by Sugarloaf? Of course not. And if, by chance, you run into someone you know and she decides to come over for a quick hello, you can just make that song disappear with a quick click of the Menu button. That was inconceivable in the old days, where you would have had to stop your turntable, wait for it to stop turning (never interfere with the natural speed of a belt-drive, for fear of throwing the carefully chosen calibrations off by the slightest variance), put the record back in the album sleeve and then hide it. You just couldn't do it. Not possible.

Now, though, I've reached a point where I am no longer embarrassed about some of the incredibly cheesy music I have on my iPod. And even if I am slightly embarrassed about knowing the words to "In the Year 2525," by heart, even though I might only listen to that song twice a year, I am no longer embarrassed about being embarrassed. So here, in an effort to come clean as yet another birthday burying me further into middle-age is just around the corner, are the next ten cheesiest songs (after the ones above) I have on my iPod.

1. "Year of the Cat," Al Stewart
2. "Rainy Days and Mondays," The Carpenters
3. "Don't You Forget About Me," Simple Minds
4. "Take on Me," a-ha
5. "Diamond Girl," Seals and Crofts
6. "Temptation Eyes," The Grass Roots
7. "Ooh, Ooh, Child," Beth Orton
8. "Guitar Man," Bread
9. "Spill the Wine," Eric Burdon with War
10. "Midnight at the Oasis," Maria Muldaur

I feel a burden lifted. Nothing like a clean conscience to the start the weekend.

1 comment:

deacon blues said...

Midnight at the Oasis?? I had to go through years of therapy to get that song out of my head. "Send your camel to bed ...". Yikes.

The Carpenters were great, not cheese. Okay, maybe a little bit.

Otherwise, nothing too scary.