In the November issue of Performing Songwriter magazine, the one with Hall & Oates on the cover, there's a note from the editor about the loss of her iPod, and her reaction to that event. She didn't really care. It was unfortunate, she says, and she certainly wasn't happy about the loss of the value of the iPod...but she goes on to talk about how music has been changed by the invention of these ubiquitous items. She talks about how new albums, remember those, would come out and you'd rush top the store to buy this big slab of vinyl packaged in a 12" square of cardboard...inside there'd be pictures, lyrics and liner notes in a font that you could actually read and maybe more. Then all your friends would come over because they'd heard you had the new Beatles' album, or Stones album, or (I think she talks about Carole King and Heart) whoever...and you'd sit in the basement, or the living room, or maybe even your bedroom and crank the volume up, listen to the WHOLE album front to back...BOTH sides! That was an experience! A shared experience that made the music into a tangible thing. I recall buying, not an album but, a 45! A single...remember those. The first single released on the Beatles' new label, Apple. The green apple on one side held the words, "Hey Jude" and the sliced apple on the other side (the B-side) said "Revolution". We were on shifts at our high school, and I didn't have to go in until the afternoon. So in the morning, at 9:30 when the store opened, I rushed over to Hal Wagonner's Melody Lane (an independent record store) and bought the 45, hot off the press. I came home with a couple hours to spare and called two friends. "Don't play it til we get there!" they begged. The suspense was killing me. The 7" black vinyl disc was elegantly packaged in a black glossy sleeve with script that said "Apple Records". I flipped it back and forth to admire the label, Apple, half an Apple...so clever, so simple. Finally they arrived, these friends, and we hunkered down to experience the new Beatles' record. Over seven minutes long...we played it over an over, then we flipped it over and played "Revolution" over and over, just soaking in the music. Of course we had seen the short films they had made for the David Frost Show...so we knew what to expect, but the music just flowed over us and through us, until my Mom called down the stairs, "You boys'd better get a move on!"
That's the kind of experience that you don't get any more. You root around the iTunes site, and download a song for a buck. Then you plunk it on your iPod and you go about your business. When it comes up in the roatation you're just about to climb on a bus. The driver says, "Step to the back please!" There's no focus on the song, there's no shared response, there's no fun. OK, maybe there's no scratchiness from the flawed vinyl, but there's no elegant sleeve either. No foldout lyric sheet. When I load music onto my iPod it's usually from CDs I already have, that I want to spend more time with. I want to listen to them alone...so there's definitely a place for the handy-dandy listening device...but if you've never rushed to the local independent to pick up the latest release from a much loved singer, or band you just can't know hopw much of the listening experience you're missing!