Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
I was trying to load the newest Battles album, Gloss Drop, onto my iPod the other day when I received a message that every serious digital music collector hopes he never gets: “Low Memory Warning.” I honestly didn’t think it could happen to me. I know rationally that iPods have a finite amount of space, I just didn’t think I’d hit that glass ceiling in my lifetime. I’ve been told that the solution is pretty simple; just buy a new iPod with more memory. I’m still using the classic 80GB version, which has worked fine up to this point. To me, buying a new iPod seems ridiculous and wasteful. I grew up in an age when the Sony Walkman was king, and you didn’t buy a replacement until it was literally hanging together with duct tape.
If I wasn’t going to fork over $300-plus for a new iPod, it was time to make some hard choices; I had to reassess every mp3 in my collection. I tried going song by song, but that was too painful. You can’t abort something when you’re looking it in the eyes. I needed an entirely new set of guidelines – a simple “no mercy” approach to evaluating an album or song’s worth so I could do a clean sweep. After weeks of careful contemplation, I came up with these four categories of music that are no longer welcome in the clogged arteries of my iPod.
Albums That Only Have That One Song I Like
If I learned nothing else from college, it’s that I don’t want to be the guy who owns Bob Marley’s Legend. Because the guy who owns Legend can’t say he’s a fan of Bob Marley any more than somebody who hears “Stir It Up” on their car radio or over the sound system of a Trader Joe’s can claim they’re a fan of Bob Marley. To paraphrase Ed Norton in Fight Club, “You’re a tourist.” That’s why the only Marley album you’ll find on my iPod is Uprising. A few weeks ago, I might’ve argued that it’s Marley’s best work with the Wailers. But if I’m honest, I only own it because of “Redemption Song.” The album also has “Could You Be Loved,” which I’m not crazy about, and eight other songs that I literally have never heard. Not even once. So what’s the difference between me and the guy who owns Legend? At least the Legend guy also has “Buffalo Soldier” and “Waiting in Vain,” and all I have is my poser pride. But for once, I’m going to start embracing my short attention span. Not just with Bob Marley, but every artist I’ve been afraid to admit I enjoy selectively. Instead of pretending I ever make it to track two on Amy Winehouse’s Black to Black, I’m going to pare it down to just “Rehab.” Does it make me a monster or a cultural bigot that I want to dump Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 and just hold on to “Empire State of Mind”? No, it makes me a realist.
Complete Artist Discographies When, Come on, Who Am I Kidding?
Like anybody who hoards music, I can be obsessive and unreasonable. There’s no good reason to own as many Wilco bootlegs as I do, especially since most of the songs are at this point in triplicate. But there are some artists — most artists, in fact — who don’t need to be represented quite so thoroughly on my iPod. Like most people, I went through a hardcore Radiohead phase for a few years, but when the man-crush on Thom Yorke disappears, it’s not rocket science to figure out that OK Computer and maybe Kid A are the only necessary albums. (Don’t be one of those people who pushes Amnesiac. Just don’t.) Most of Beck’s albums are essential, but maybe not so much Stereopathetic Soul Manure. (Except “Satan Gave Me a Taco,” and then see Rule no. 1.) Funkadelic were groundbreaking and awesome, but getting stranded on a desert island with only Maggot Brain is not the worst thing that could happen to a person. And yes, I have nothing but affection for the dearly departed White Stripes but you really only need one of their albums to get the basic idea. Listen to White Blood Cells and it’s like listening to everything they’ve ever recorded, but in an eighth of the gigabytes.
Albums I Only Own Because I Feel Like I Should
My iPod is bursting at the seams with albums that Pitchfork and used record store employees with horned-rimmed glasses have talked me into, like Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender and Panda Bear’s Person Pitch. So why didn’t I just get rid of them long ago? Because I’ve been waiting for the day when somebody I don’t know and maybe find physically attractive looks at my iPod and sees that I own Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender and Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, and assumes that I must be clever and sexually desirable. It’s the fear of being judged by strangers that has kept Daniel Johnston and the Fiery Furnaces on my iPod for almost a decade, and it’s got to stop.
Artists and Albums Not Worth the Social Embarrassment
I have nightmares about my funeral. Not because I’ll be dead, but because I’m pretty sure I’ll have forgotten to create a funeral playlist. Whoever my surviving relatives are, it’s unlikely they’ll have the emotional energy to slog through my overstuffed iPod and make educated guesses. Instead, they’ll just hit shuffle and hope for the best. And that’s how, in the middle of what should be a tearful and regret-filled goodbye, my friends and family will be assaulted with Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Or the Black Eyed Peas‘ “Boom Boom Pow,” which I don’t even remember putting on there. Maybe, while I was alive, I only enjoyed them ironically, but it’s too late and I’m too dead to defend myself. And when those songs start blaring through the church, there’s going to be a lot of very confused and angry faces, and a lot of people muttering, “Oh, Jesus Christ, really?” So that’s the question I — and really, any of you with iPods of your own — need to ask while there’s still time. Are the guilty musical pleasures of today worth the risk of having your funeral ruined by the Dave Matthews Band tomorrow? Death can come at any moment, and if you’re not prepared for it, your musical legacy, the thing people will remember about your final farewell could very well be John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland.” And there you are, a ghost in the corner, helpless to do anything but wince and wonder why you didn’t go towards the light sooner. “I swear to god,” you’ll scream at deaf ears. “I had a ton of Modest Mouse on there. I didn’t mean to get rid of it. I just … well, it’s a long story. My iPod started flashing ‘Low Memory Warning,’ and I made some rash decisions. Hit the shuffle button again; I’ll bet some Yo La Tengo comes up next.” But no, it’ll be something from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, probably “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” You forgot to get rid of that album, didn’t you? And there’s no coming back from that.
Somehow, Gloss Drop made it on, in its entirety. And I have no idea how. I did the ol’ drag and drop, thinking an explosion was imminent, but there it sat, motionless. But it swears to me, that’s it.