Tuesday, 4 September 2012

"Clay...This. Is. Your. Music..."

Ok, here’s the deal.

As of this writing, there are 8,280 songs in my iTunes library. Combined, they take up 46 GB of my external hard drive - enough music to play for 25 days straight.

And yet, I’ve felt for a long while that I have no idea what’s in there. Sure, I could rhyme off the biggies - the ones you’d expect - Beatles, Stones, some Zeppelin, some smattering of mid-90s grunge, lots of classical and jazz that I don’t listen to nearly enough.

But, as you can see, that brings us nowhere close to 8,280 songs. Sure, I’ve tried various methods of stuffing the ipod with as much randomness as I could. But - and I’m not the only one who’s experienced this if the message boards and forums are to be believed - I end up with the same tired mix. no matter what I try, I end up without fail with the same stuff every time - or, close enough to the same thing that it feels like the same, which is, effectively, the same thing.

Also, I spend far more time in itunes than I had ever intended to. That app blows.

Then there are the other issues. Steve Jobs, Apple and iTunes have most definitely changed the way I experience music, and not always for the better. For one thing, it’s a lot more complicated. We are in the era of fiddling. Also, it’s most exclusively through the ipod now. Radio - once my main means of keeping on top of things - is now exclusively for news. Then there’s the issue of headphones vs. ipod dock. They’re two different experiences. In the former i’ve become incredibly picky: “nope, nope, nope, maybe...nope, ok...nope” and the latter I hardly ever pursue. I rarely take the time to listen to an entire album anymore. I don’t have the patience. Or at least I think I don’t. Now I listen to music the same way I surf the web. If there’s no instant gratification within five seconds I’m outta there, onto he next one, as Jay-Z says.

Then there are the non-music related issues. I’m supposed to be a writer for at least part of my job. But I rarely write anymore. And now the prospect of having to at the drop of a hat kinda scares me. My writing muscles have atrophied. Seriously.


This is the first in a series that i’ve had in my head for a while. 700 words about six random songs. Here’s how it will work: With the itunes on Random/shuffle, I let it play for six songs. During those six songs, I write whatever comes to mind. I don’t look ahead, I don’t hit pause, I don’t skip even thought it may be a song i’m embarrassed to own. And I can't write more than 700 words.

I’m hoping that these little exercises help to restore the ability I had not so long ago to bang out 700 words on this, that and usually the other thing at a moment’s notice. I’m also thinking that they’re kinda in the vein of those self-imposed challenges that are so in vogue these days.

Finally, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to rediscover some of those 8,280 songs that I’ve accumulated and digitized. If my math is correct I’ll have to write more than 1,300 of these suckers, so I’d better get started.

Song 1 - Strangelove, Depeche Mode 
Never a die-hard fan, though back in high school I knew enough that knowing the chords to “somebody” would make the girls swoon. Rarely do keyboard players ever get the girls. In retrospect, Dave Gahan is a lousy singer but perfect for the aesthetic. You gotta give it to them, they definitely created a mood with their songs. Also, I never really understood the point of the lyrics to most of their songs, either. Sure, I was a tortured teen like the rest of them, but never, as the cute girls always said, “in that way.”

Song 2 - Passover, Joy Division
Joy Division was the first band whose music actually made me cringe. I mean physically cringe. It was music that was uncomfortable to listen to. I’ve read that their live performances weren’t nearly as creepy and alienating as their recorded work, but Ian offed himself too early for me to find out for myself. I still have trouble listening to a lot of their stuff, at least a lot of their stuff in succession. It’s bracing, bracing stuff. It’s also the blueprint for a lot of British music that came afterwards, too. What always stands out for me is Stephen Morris’ ruthless, rigid up and down drumming. Joy Division did not “swing.” You could hear in The Smiths and nearly every band that followed.

Song 3 - Clues, Patricia Barber
An artist I haven’t given enough time to. I’ve no sense of the range of her voice because she sings in a low register, most likely deliberately. There’s also a lot of Joni Mitchell I hear in her, too - a lot of off-kilter phrasing and accents in place of a melody. Her songs are like musical paintings. Not really stuff you can sing along to, but definitely stuff you can drink to whilst listening to, preferably via headphones with a single malt at your side. She lives in Paris, too, so that’s in her favor.

Song 4: Are you ready for the country? Neil Young
The veneration of one of Canada’s best-known musical export (see also “Mitchell, Joni”) continues. He seems so unphased by it all, really, and he hasn’t lived here for years, at least I don’t think. He’s playing at Scotiabank Place this month with Crazy Horse. Still, Harvest is one of those seminal albums of the era that you really must own. The guys in The Deep Dark Woods certainly do, ‘cause you can hear that analog country vibe in nearly everything they do.

Song 5: What is And What Should Never Be, Led Zeppelin 
See what I mean? Even on “shuffle” I can’t escape the songs I know are there. Still (I’m going to use that word a lot, I think) I’m always glad when Zep comes up. Sure, they had that mystique, but at their core they were better musicians than a lot of people gave them credit for. I like the way John Paul Jones’ restless, almost funky bassline fills in the gaps between the loud bits, adding a texture that elevated their stuff above a lot of their imitators and competitors. Jones didn’t get near the press or probably the girls that Page and Plant did, but every good band needs people like that - Harrison did it for the beatles, Garth Hudson did it for The Band.

Song 6: The Lemon Song, Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes
Ok, now this is creepy - two Zep songs in a row? Granted, one with the Black Crowes, but still. This was a double album they cut at The Greek theatre a few years back and it holds up remarkably well. Part of that is because the song has great blues bones, but also because by the time the Crowes cut it, they had been on the road for years and really solidified their chops. Their show at Bluesfest a few years ago was one of the top 3 I’ve ever seen there (White Stripes top the list). Steve Gorman is a monster on the drums (and a nice guy - I drove him) and Chris Robinson doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves for his vocals. Listen to some of their later work - he’s a total pro.

Total words (not including titles): 662

1 comment:

Ottawa Sports Guy said...

I will follow along, if you don't mind...

1) Depeche Mode never registered with me as a youth - it would have been a miraculous penetration if it had, considering my home town is Kapuskasing. Even today, I have a hard time warming to this new wave group. I've rarely gotten beyond "Personal Jesus" or "People Are People".

2) Joy Division is also a group I never approached. At some point I'll have to delve into their brand of depression, seeing as they have influenced so many of my heroes.

3) Never heard of her.

4) Neil Young is a blind spot in my Canadiana, a blind spot I am eager to check over my shoulder. Where should I start?

5) I'm a big Zeppelin guy. This song has the trademark hard/soft dynamic, with some great bluesy riffs to boot. A good selection!

6) Dirtiest song I know. No, seriously. How they got away with it is beyond me. I guess a good metaphor is all you need to get past the sensors.