Friday, October 14, 2011

The Gift

Had a strange encounter before class the other day:

ME (seeing a student with headphones and an Ipod): Hey, what are you listening to?
STUDENT: I'm not listening.
ME: Oh, I know. I'm not accusing you. What were you listening to?
STUDENT: I haven't been listening.
ME: Yeah, I get that. What do you like to listen to?
STUDENT shrugs.
ME: Tell me one band that is on your Ipod.
STUDENT shrugs.
ME: Okay, just one song. Just tell me one song on there.
STUDENT: Why are you asking me? It's kind of creepy.
ME: I love music. I like to know what people are listening to. I like ideas. You won't even tell me one song?
STUDENT: A bunch of country stuff.

And on it went. And it reminded me that listening to music has become an incredibly private activity for many people, and that the more that increases, the less we will want to explain, or justify, or get feedback for our listening choices. Or, apparently, even let anyone else know what they are.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the increasingly portable, increasingly personal use of music is the near inability to give music as a gift. Not unlike the Kindle problem, where once you've finished reading a great book and you want to share it with someone that you know will like it, the collection of songs that a person amasses on Ipod, laptop, smart phone, Cloud or, more likely, all of the above does not travel easily to other people.

I've begun swapping Kindles within my family, but still haven't been able to get my head around even handing my Kindle off to a friend down the street. Maybe someday.

Maybe this increased solitariness was intended. I know that sometimes all of us who are using eMusic are buying the same eMusic, which seems redundant. I can't imagine that merchandisers are displeased with that.

But there has always been something communal about music as well--the stack of 45's on a phonograph, the mixtape of legend, the 'I burned you a mix' of just a few years ago. Heck, go back even farther to the simple 'Hey, you've got to hear this song.' Music was community, as played, as performed, as listened to. Gesture aside, that doesn't really work with one earbud in your ear and one earbud in your friend's ear.

And now, even the idea of burning a CD for another person is almost redundant, is slow and inefficient, seems like it's almost too much trouble. To hand someone a CD is to hand them a piece of technology that is very, very close to being outmoded. They will have to load it into a computer that many computers no longer have. They will have to download it, quite possibly have to enter the name of each track, artist, album manually, then upload it to the host computer and then connect their Ipod or phone and upload it again.

Just a couple of years ago, that seemed worth the trouble. Now, well, I have to admit that when people give me CDs they've burned, those CDs pile up until I can get a block of time and load them in all at once. Which is not to say that I am ungrateful; on the contrary, I am sad that the gift is gone.

We don't even buy other people music anymore. We buy them credits so that they can buy music. If that.

So, yes, I am sad that the gift of music is, if not gone, being pushed aside as inconvenient. Over the years, there is no telling how many bands I "discovered" because someone else--friend or music magazine or discount bin at McKay's--presented me with a mix, a playlist, a sampler. Now, I'm searching on my own, most of the time, and, frankly, the search isn't as fun as it used to be.

Here is a sampler of songs that have come my way in the last several months courtesy of friends still handing out the gift of music:

1. Eliza Gilykson--"Welcome Back" (mp3)

2. Ryan Adams--"Come Home" (mp3)

3. Bearfoot--"Tell Me A Story" (mp3)

4. Richard Shindell--"Reunion Hill (live)" (mp3)

5. Toad The Wet Sprocket--"All I Want (live) (mp3)


cinderkeys said...

I would have thought it easier to share music now. "Really, you haven't heard this? Here's the YouTube link."

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

It does seem ungrateful, I suppose, to bitch when pretty much everything is available with no effort, but I also find myself lamenting the communal experiences you describe when that was the best way to discover new music.

Bob said...

@Cinderkeys: But you've got to admit, sending someone a "Hey, check out this link" is pretty impersonal, maybe more of an implied obligation than a gift.

@Frog Pajamas: We enjoy the blog, and wonder if you and Billy shared the same childhood.

troutking said...

I miss the work that used to go into finding music. Like going to a record store and finding something you've been searching for. Now it's so easy, I usually not knowing how to narrow down new music I have access to. So I just put on my default music that I already have.