iTunes & I

It hit me a short while ago that I’m not the same type of music consumer I was a couple of years ago. I used to listen to music by either popping a CD into my stereo or by placing a record onto my turntable. Now I more than likely turn my computer on, and often whilst doing something else, or several other things, I listen to my iTunes library. It’s become so second nature to me now that I hadn’t even realized how much dust my stereo was collecting. And there’s something profoundly sad about all this for me. Am I losing the pleasure of actually listening to music as opposed to hearing it?
I suppose my dependence on iTunes came about when I moved to Ontario for grad school last year and decided to forgo bringing a stereo and my hundreds of CDs with me (it was both impractical and risky – I treat my CDs and records like babies). In my tiny bedroom in a rather decrepit living situation, I turned up my computer’s volume as high as it would go and used music as my usual remedy for the dismal world around me. On one notable occasion, I blasted The Clash’s Sandinista from my bedroom in the morning so that my roommates wouldn’t have the luxury of a lie in after keeping me up all night with their running about and laughing. No, computer speakers are no match for a proper stereo, and no, MP3 files are not up to the standard of proper recordings. But despite these drawbacks, I still enjoyed my music collection, which continued to expand unchecked by my limited finances (there was a fairly decent used CD shop a twenty-minute walk from my apartment). Rather than dropping my new purchases into a stereo, I ripped them to my increasingly gargantuan iTunes library and they joined my regular line-up (whatever that can entail when your line-up consists of over 5000 songs). Occasionally, I tried to have my first listen of full albums through my headphones on a Discman, so obviously I subconsciously believed there to be a difference between listening via iTunes and listening to the disc itself, independent of any other music or distractions.
I can’t say that iTunes has made my desire for tangible music wane at all, mind. As I stated earlier, I still buy as many CDs as I used to, and if I had a proper job and more money, I would be buying a lot of vinyl, too. I’ve probably said it before, but I love looking at music as a package that includes liner notes with images and/or lyrics, and I also like to think that albums should be whole works of art, not piecemeal digital files. And one of my main criticisms of certain bands is the lack of a coherent vision in creating a record, producing a few hit singles and filler. Having said that, iTunes has made listening to disparate music as interesting as consuming an album in its entirety – the shuffle function, whether on my iPod or my iTunes, can place seemingly unrelated songs together in a serendipitous fashion that makes me hear and understand these songs in a whole new way. Then again, it can also frustrate me when I’m in a particular mood for certain songs and others come up instead. I do love The Mighty Boosh’s Cockney Nutjob, but it can be jarring in the midst of Joy Division and The Clash. I suppose that the shuffle function works as my own personal commercial-free radio station, where I can constantly be surprised by songs I hadn’t listened to in awhile or songs I haven’t had a chance to listen to much before. But this process of consuming music is obviously a very different experience from carefully selecting an album or a mix I had crafted earlier and listening to it from beginning to end with complete concentration. However, have I always listened intently to music, or have I used it as a soundtrack to other activities more than I like to think?
Music, for at least as early as my early teens, has been a constant in the background – I could never do homework in complete silence. I still remember working on quadratic functions or organic chemistry problems whilst singing along to Savage Garden (an embarrassing admission, but I feel as though I must confess this aspect of my early teens – my taste was nowhere near as discriminating as it became later in life, and as disturbing as it is to remember, I was told a couple of times that I sounded quite like Darren Hayes at the time…I guess Bowie’s voice was too low for a fourteen-year-old girl to emulate). I think I found abstract problem-solving easier to do as I multi-tasked with singing, whereas subjects that required a coherent argument, like English or History, forced me to relegate music to the background. Until a truly singable song came on and I stopped for a moment. It’s like my brain works best when it’s firing on all possible synapses, including the ones that appreciate music. Music still stimulates and inspires me as I think and write, making me come to fascinating conclusions that I don’t remember coming to later. So then, has my consumption behaviour really changed as much as I think it has?
(Takes a break to sing along with The Boy With The Thorn in His Side)
iTunes and MP3s have facilitated many of the activities related to listening to music, including the creation of mixes and playlists, the search for particular artists, albums or songs, and the ability to skip over tracks. Maybe I feel guilty over this ease and immediacy – I feel that I should be able to search my own brain for an appropriate song rather than type in a keyword or that I should be handling actual discs rather than easily flitting from track to track along with my fickle moods. My discs and records are like people to me (when I buy them from used CD shops, I feel like I’m rescuing neglected orphans and healing them by replacing cracked case covers), and when I don’t take them out to listen on my stereo, I feel like I’m not giving them the attention and commitment they deserve. Also, in order to keep my computer from exploding, I don’t store every song I have on it, which does mean I might miss out on some of the music I didn’t choose to add to my digital library for who knows what reason. I then wonder, though, if perhaps my attention has become more fragmented over time because I just simply have too much music to listen to than I did when my musical scope was much more limited. Exacerbating this situation is that fact that MP3s are easy to amass and transport, which makes my collection spiral out of control. My music is becoming a landslide let alone my life. This issue worries me, though, because I know that some songs take time to grow on me, and if I don’t make that extra time, I might miss out on something magical.

(Stops for some air guitar to The Skids’ Charade)

I guess I miss that feeling of taking time to appreciate music the same way I would a good book or film. Why does the visual consume us while we have to make an effort to be completely immersed by the aural? I blame the Enlightenment. My best friend and I used to spend hours playing albums to each other and trading music via cassette tape, and later, via CD. Now that she no longer lives in the same country, we’ve done a bit of trading both online and through the post, but it doesn’t have that same great feeling of sharing an experience. Whether it be rapt admiration or fits of laughter or actual discussion about why certain songs are good. Even when they might turn out to be not so good later in life. Part of my motive for this blog probably has its roots in the need to share music in some communal way and to take the time to listen once again. To listen closely.

(Drums and sings along to The Sound of Arrows’ Danger!)

I realize this post has been convoluted with pretzel-like logic. I still think that iTunes and MP3s have changed the way I consume music, but I can’t quite articulate the real difference between my earlier self and my present self. Maybe it’s more about how I’ve always had two ways of consuming music, and that iTunes has served to make me more aware of that fact. But I don’t want to slip so completely into my iTunes library never to recall alternate ways of how to love music. I should really take my vinyl copy of The Queen is Dead out and listen to it while lying on the floor like I used to a few years back. Maybe everything would make sense again.

From Blown Speakers – The New Pornographers

Turn It Up – Robots in Disguise


3 Responses to “iTunes & I”

  1. 1 JC
    August 16, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    “My best friend and I used to spend hours playing albums to each other and trading music via cassette tape, and later, via CD. Now that she no longer lives in the same country, we’ve done a bit of trading both online and through the post, but it doesn’t have that same great feeling of sharing an experience”

    One of many statements that I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with.

    Yet again you’ve got me thinking long and hard about things…the talent and ability you have for just nailing things in one go is astounding.

    Your words and logic make perfect sense. The post is articulate, intelligent, witty, thought-provoking and hugely entertaining. It is not convuluted with pretzel-like logic (I’m not sure exactly what that means but it sounds as if you’re being way too hard on yourself).

    Have you been over to Song By Toad and read some of his recent thoughts on the state of music in the 21st Century?? I still reckon both of you ought to be writing about music professionally for a living….

    Now there’s something that I’d love to be part of. A session in a pub in Glasgow or Edinburgh with you and Matthew (aka Toad) talking long and hard about music, while the grumpy old professor (i.e. me) sighs and reminices about the days when it cost £3 with no booking fees to see The Jam or The Clash….and will take perverse pleasue in reminding you mere youngsters that he saw The Smiths play live on quite a few occasions…..

    Hope all is well in my second favourite country on the planet.

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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