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Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal

It takes a good amount of time to come to terms with iTunes.

Our music collections have always been quasi-public affairs. We showed off our record collection to friends. We pointed with pride to the racks and racks of CDs we have. We kept huge boxes of tapes in the back seat of our cars, ready to be popped in at a moment's notice. We built careful mix tapes both for ourselves and for the people we liked. Having a large music collection showed good taste, good breeding, and an appreciation of the artistic. And when we managed to talk an attractive member of our preferred sex into our room, we had a huge range of mood music we could put on and hopefully help said person out of their underwear.

But, the problem with being quasi-public is... well, just anyone can end up seeing your music collection. The snotty girlfriend of your best friend can show up and snark about how much she hates the Bay City Rollers. The Music Geek Wannabe can snort when they see your prized collection of 45's, talking about how crap Foreigner was. So you shrink back, argue, or otherwise get put on the defensive. And the next time you look through your albums, you see that piece of music, make a face, and never listen to it again.

Do you have any idea how stupid that is? I mean, who gives a damn if you like Anne Murray? Well, besides Anne Murray herself. Is there anything as personal as what collections of sound you find appealing? Is there any reason what we like should be dictated by what other people like? I'm in my mid-thirties, not high school.

The worst I ever got with this comes from the mid-nineties, when I was living in Seattle with Bill, Dominic and T. While we were sitting around one day, I made some innocuous reference to Billy Joel.

"Oh, Christ," Dominic said. "I hate Billy Joel."

"Me too," Bill said. "Ugh."

Now, here I am. I'm an admitted geek. I'm living with geeks and nonconformists and men with Travolta hair. I'm (at that point) in my late twenties, and I'm an intelligent person.

"Oh Jesus," I thought to myself. "I didn't know Billy Joel sucked!" So I stopped listening to Billy Joel.

See, all three of my roommates at that time have musical tastes that appeal to me. They introduced me to hardcore Elvis Costello, to Bare Naked Ladies, to Kirsty Macall, to They Might Be Giants, to Bad Religion, to Oingo Boingo, to Stan Ridgway, to Tom Waits, to Warren Zevon, to the Jazz Butcher and that's just off the top of my head. About the only heavy music influences from my time in Seattle -- one of the music capitals of the world -- not from Bill or Dominic or T was jazz, and that's just because we had KPLU, which has to be the best jazz Public Radio station on Earth.

So, while I had always been a huge Billy Joel fan, I suddenly had doubts. And make no mistake, I was a huge fan. I went to his Bridge tour. I had all his albums. I listened to his greatest hits collection on shuffle.

Flash forward five years. I'm living in New Hampshire. I'm getting my CDs out of storage. I'm revisiting old favorites. I'm revelling a little. And I come across Glass Houses.

"Oh, that," I think. "Forget it. Billy Joel sucks."

Five years. Five years after an offhanded comment from a couple of guys who didn't like Billy Joel, and I was still marked. It was another year and a half before I started listening to him, and later still when I realized that what Bill and Dominic think of Billy Joel couldn't possibly matter less to my current life. Especially since I know almost all the friends I see on a regular basis like Billy Joel. Or love Billy Joel. Or want to bear children by Billy Joel.

(All right, I admit freely I think the 'Classical Composer William Joel' needs a good hearty punch to the stomach, but that has nothing to do with his music.)

Now... let's move to today. And to the iTunes Music Store.

Holy Mother Juggs and Speed.

Forget Kazaa and the original Napster and Grokster and all the rest. iTunes is phenomenal. You hear a song you like on TV, and one buck later it's yours. You remember an album you like, or a new one comes out, and ten bucks later you're listening to it. It's addictive and it's beautiful and it just plain works. iTunes is just plain fantastic.

And it's entirely personal.

No one is going to be walking through my apartment and chancing upon my iTunes playlist. If I walk into my office and see someone scrolling through something on my computer without asking, I'm going to make him wish he'd never been born. When it syncs to the iPod, it's syncing to my personal music machine, and no one else matters.

And one day, it hits you that you're free. You're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how unpopular they may be. Hell, you're free to indulge your musical tastes, no matter how popular they may be. Music Snobbery can no longer touch you.

So yes, I have reams of quirky, brilliant, indie and alternative music. Yes, I have collections of folks men in dark suits without ties, short haircuts and hornrimmed glasses will nod their approval on. Yes, I have music I can play at any party and not have anyone make a face.

But I also have Billy Joel. And some Pat Benatar. Hell, I have some Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond. I forgot how cool a song "I Am, I Said" is.

And I have "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé -- absolutely pop, absolutely currently popular, and no doubt hated as trash by most right thinking Music Geeks over the age of 30. But I like it, so I have it.

That's what iTunes has given us. That's what MP3s and AACs and OGGs have given us. That is the freedom we have. We have the power to create the soundtrack of our own lives, and the power to do it without censure from everyone around us. We can have the Beatles and the Monkees and the Flash Girls and Madness on the same playlist. We can indulge our love of blues and our love of cheesy 70's overproduced easy listening. We can listen to Sinatra and Tony Orlando and 50 Cent in a row, and it doesn't matter to anyone but you.

That's cool. That's power. That's just plain neat.

It's damnably cold right now. It was -3 plus 30-40 MPH winds this morning. Last night it was cold enough that they decided not to have the kids walk from their dorms to the academic building to study, lest they get flash-frostbitten. Winter has officially arrived in New Hampshire, in all its windtunnel glory.

I'm coping well enough with the cold. I have the coolest coffeemaker on Earth. It's a Keurig single cup, and it just. Plain. Works. You fill it with water every few days. You get a hankering for coffee. You put a cup down. You select what coffee you want (I'm big on Hazelnut or French Vanilla.) You drop the little tub -- still sealed -- inside. You push the button. Thirty seconds later you sip the hot, fresh, well perked, good cup of coffee. It just plain works.Keurig Coffeemaker

This is huge. This is major. This is tremendous. You have to understand -- I hate making a full pot of coffee. Not only can't I ever get the proportions quite right for what I want, I inevitably don't want more than one or two cups. This thing just makes what I want, and it makes it as good coffee. Every time.

The Catholic Church should look into the possible theological implications. I'm relatively certain the Keurig would count as one of the three miracles needed for canonization. I know, I know. I'm mister gadget. But aside from the Tivo, I don't know of a single gadget I've ever had that I use each and every day without fail. Except this one.

Every day.

I haven't had a caffeine headache in three months.

(Yes, I know. Long time readers want to know why I'm drinking coffee instead of tea. Tea is special. Tea is a ritual. Tea is a calming. Tea takes time and effort. Coffee is a caffeine delivery system. You see the distinction? Knew you would.)

So, in walking to school and trying hard not to freeze to death, having a full travel mug of hot coffee is an amazingly nice thing. In fact, the winter should be pretty good, all told.

Or so we hope.


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» One in the eye for the music police from One Man & His Blog
Anyone who has ever had a friend comment on their music collection in a less than favourable fashion will find this article balm for their troubled soul: Annotations: Some Days in the Life: Playlists and Coffeemakers: Recapturing the Personal Well said... [Read More]

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It wasn't until college that I was told by the Musical Taste Police that Billy Joel wasn't cool. Apparently, I wasn't the only one so deterred. It didn't help that my high school sweetheart was a big Billy Joel fan--when we broke up, she got custody of... [Read More]


I just wish iTunes had more filk...

(Fill with water every few days? Doesn't it get stale?)

[standing up from little folding chair]

Hi. My name is Frank Orzechowicz, and the first iTunes song I downloaded was Marilyn Manson's remake of "Sweet Dreams". Because I could.

[sitting back down]

I guess you don't go in for iTunes playlist sharing, then, do you? :)

1) Actually, I like Napster for hunting down and streaming odd covers of 80s songs I haven't heard (my own silly obsession). But iTunes is well-designed and mighty comprehensive.

2) Keurig...Keurig is love.


Don't you ever feel ashamed of owning Pat Benatar records my friend!


Would've been nice to have a link to Keurig's website. (It's the nicely obvious http://www.keurig.com, if anyone's curious.) $250 is a bit of a spendy price tag for a coffeemaker, but that doesn't stop me wanting it... ;)

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