Icky Thump

I once told this girl in a bar that I was sav­ing the White Stripes’ final album, 2007’s Icky Thump, to lis­ten to at some point in the future just so I could have the plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to a new White Stripes album when there were no new ones. This was a bunch of years ago, it was true, and she said she was impressed with my self-control.

Late last year I found myself in the dri­ver’s seat in Texas late at night with a long way to go. By then I had bought the album and kept a copy stored up in the cloud, always avail­able but nev­er played and just kind of hang­ing out. I had avoid­ed even mere­ly read­ing reviews for almost a decade, but these unfa­mil­iar roads kin­da seemed like the right time, and this night the right place to pull Icky Thump down from the sky and out through the rental car speakers.

You know, I’ve got this playlist for songs that are not nec­es­sar­i­ly great, but when I first heard them made me go “whoa—what world did this thing come from?” (The playlist is actu­al­ly, lit­er­al­ly, titled “What world…?”) Ramm­stein, Goril­laz, Eminem, Black Flag, Mind­less Self Indul­gence, and a few oth­ers, have a track apiece on the playlist. None of the songs have that effect on me any­more, but every track was once mind-melting stuff.

Would adding an entire album be vio­lat­ing the spir­it of the playlist?

Winamp — “feel the love”

Winamp 2.95I prob­a­bly haven’t used Winamp in a decade, but learn­ing that it’s final­ly going away for good brought it back to the top of my mind this week.

Winamp was­n’t just my pri­ma­ry digital-music-playing-thing1 — like many peo­ple, it was the first thing I ever used to play MP3s.

Yes Junior, back then Win­dows Media Play­er was for CDs and WAV files, and iTunes did­n’t exist yet.2

What made Winamp so awe­some? I could devote a whole post3  to the genius of Winamp skins, and things I’ve been read­ing (1, 2, 3) over­whelm­ing­ly ref­er­ence the clas­sic “whip the lla­ma’s ass” sound clip — which, in addi­tion to being a neat lit­tle brand­ing thing, was per­ma­nent­ly imprint­ed on every­one’s mem­o­ry by being the first thing that would play after installation.

Those were cool, but my favorite Winamp mem­o­ry is some­thing a lit­tle less… super­fi­cial, per­haps? It’s a short piece of writ­ing that long ago was fea­tured on the “About” page of winamp.com:

What is Winamp? A play­er you say? No, no baby. Winamp is much more than that.

Winamp is a lifestyle. It is freestyle. Give me a word. Ver­sa­til­i­ty? Yeah. Vision­ary? Of course. Com­mu­ni­ty? Now you’re talking.

Winamp lives because it’s users have a life.

Winamp is in the cof­fee house. On the lap­top. Of the guy. Who is writ­ing the screen­play. That you will be watch­ing next year.

Winamp is on the screen. In the club. Where the DJ plays the tracks. That get you through the night.

Winamp is with you. When you take your playlist. Push it to the ether. And share the music that you love. With all of humanity.

Winamp lets you put togeth­er the sound­track. That runs in the back­ground of your mind. And allows you to define your life.

Winamp is your skin. Allow­ing you to look and feel the way you want.

Winamp is what it is and noth­ing more. But you are the one who makes it. Winamp is there for you. It is yours. What hap­pens next? You tell me. Down­load Winamp.

-jonathan “feel the love” ward

Read­ing it back then left me a bit misty, filled with this strange­ly inspired feel­ing. The piece comes to mind every once in a while, at which point I seek out a copy to re-read it. Look, I can’t point to any­thing in par­tic­u­lar that I wrote or cre­at­ed thanks to this inspi­ra­tion. But in some way, it made me think dif­fer­ent­ly not just about the pow­er of music, but the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of what would oth­er­wise seem like triv­ial soft­ware. Read­ing this made me feel like Winamp did more than just “play music.”

But in real­i­ty, that’s all it did. Or was there more?

Give me a word. Hyper­bole? Maybe. Awe­some? Undeniable.

  1. Until iTunes for Win­dows showed me the val­ue in hav­ing a library of files. Yeah, I know Winamp has a library fea­ture, but I nev­er used it.
  2. Oh, and by the way, MP3s were these things peo­ple used to lis­ten to before there was YouTube.
  3. And, shit, I may — Winamp was doing skeu­mor­phics before Apple did skeu­mor­phics before Apple stopped doing skeu­mor­phics.

On wishing for boredom

This is not a post about Steve Jobs. I read enough of them in the days and weeks after his death. I read in these a lot of what I already knew and learned some new stuff for sure, but one Steve quote stood out to me in Wired’s obit­u­ary:

I’m a big believ­er in bore­dom,” he told me. Bore­dom allows one to indulge in curios­i­ty, he explained, and “out of curios­i­ty comes everything.”

I’m not sure if I’d head this quote from him before, but it put into words some­thing that has been trou­bling me for some time: I haven’t been bored in years.

The first time I noticed this was in the mid-2000s, and  I only real­ized part of it, and I saw it through the lens of my Inter­net usage, par­tic­u­lar­ly RSS. Even today, as the cool kids have moved on to fol­low­ing Twit­ter feeds (real­ly, talk about a step back­wards) of web­sites and blogs they find inter­est­ing, I’m still a huge fan of the no-bullshit, user-in-control, decen­tral­ized pow­er of RSS.1

What occurred to me back then was that hav­ing posts pushed to me dai­ly gave me more read­ing mate­r­i­al than I need­ed. And since I could nev­er get all the way through the unread glut of posts from blogs I’d sub­scribed to, my need to ever go for­ag­ing for inter­est­ing things to read basi­cal­ly dis­ap­peared. RSS gave me tons of serendip­i­ty (thank you, linkblogs!)… and at the same time, prac­ti­cal­ly none at all. I miss the old days — some would say the bad old days — when I’d get my online enter­tain­ment and ran­dom bits of enlight­en­ment by brows­ing aim­less­ly from link to link, being per­son­al­ly point­ed to inter­est­ing things by friends on AIM, fol­low­ing lat­est links post­ed to proto-blogs like Pix­el­sur­geon, and… I don’t know, how­ev­er else we found cool shit back then.

The sec­ond time I felt this effect of this was at some point over the last few years, but this time in a more gen­er­al sense. This time it was big­ger than RSS; this time it was about every­thing in my life.

I real­ized I have far too many options for enter­tain­ment. There are two rea­sons for this: mas­sive dig­i­tal stor­age devices and the fact that, being employed gives me an actu­al enter­tain­ment bud­get for pur­chas­ing paid media and fan­cy devices on which to expe­ri­ence it. Between a pile of unread books and bunch of e‑books; more unwatched movies, sea­sons of old TV shows and ani­me series than I can name; and games galore that I’ll nev­er fin­ish (thank you Nin­ten­do Wii and DS, Android phone and a still-kickin’ Atari 2600), I’m pret­ty much set for… for­ev­er.2 Even if I don’t seek out any­thing new, it’ll be years and years before I get through all of this. And it’s not like I can just ignore new releas­es and stuff I become aware of in the meantime!

I might be able to enjoy this world o’ plen­ty, if I could for­get about what life was like when I was grow­ing up, before we had the com­put­ing pow­er, stor­age and net­work capac­i­ty to expe­ri­ence all the dig­i­tal rich­es of more enter­tain­ment than we’ll ever need. I spent so much time being bored grow­ing up, aim­less­ly think­ing and day­dream­ing and such. This was before my first com­put­er; I had tons of books and had prob­a­bly read almost all of them, made good use of the pub­lic library, played with toys, action fig­ures and stuff a whole lot and still found time to be bored and day­dream because it seemed like I had run out of things to do.

If you live a sim­i­lar­ly full, media-rich and employed first-world life, and can still ever find your­self so lux­u­ri­ous­ly bored, how do you man­age? And can you teach me?

  1. Google Read­er, please don’t die.
  2. I did­n’t men­tion music here, because the way I con­sume music is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I still clear­ly have more than I “need,” but I don’t feel the same sort of pres­sure to get through it all, thanks to shuf­fle mode.

Uncommon Knowledge: Songs about “you”

Every so often I real­ize that some­thing I believe to be com­mon knowl­edge actu­al­ly isn’t, sim­ply because not every­one has the same life expe­ri­ences as I do. I’m try­ing to doc­u­ment such things that I know, for the bet­ter­ment of soci­ety as a whole. This blog seems to be the per­fect place to do this.

Here’s today’s bit of very impor­tant, uncom­mon knowledge:

If you’re not in a com­mit­ted rela­tion­ship, per­haps the great­est thing you can do for your­self is begin one with a per­son whose name — or a rea­son­able nick­name for their name — ends in the let­ter “u” (IPA: u: — MWCD: ü — NOAD: o͞o) or oth­er­wise rhymes with the Eng­lish word you.

Why would you want to do this, you may won­der. What you lose being in a rela­tion­ship for an admit­ted­ly piss-poor rea­son, you gain in being able to fill the indi­vid­u­al’s name into all sorts of pop­u­lar music from at least the last 60 years or so. This will help you bet­ter put your feel­ings for them into words, and not sound entire­ly ridicu­lous in the process.

Seri­ous­ly, have you ever noticed how many songs address some­one in the second-person, where the singer sings words of love, hate or some oth­er emo­tion to an unnamed some­one? It’s true! You prob­a­bly don’t notice just how use­ful this is until you find your­self in a rela­tion­ship where you want to express some emo­tion or anoth­er for an indi­vid­ual who is named in that cer­tain way. But once you do, this sim­ple thing becomes very use­ful, indeed.

So go and find some­body with a com­pat­i­ble name. I sup­pose you could nick­name pret­ty much any­one “Boo,” but that’s sort of lame. Unless that’s their giv­en name, in which case they’re nat­u­ral­ly a keeper.

Here are some exam­ple songs to get you start­ed, and names to help nar­row the field:

  • You’re just too good to be true/Can’t take my eyes off Stu #
  • I don’t believe that anybody/feels the way I do about Lulu now #
  • Hello/I love Drew/Won’t you tell me your name? #
  • I know I’ve got noth­ing on Lou/I know there’s noth­ing to do #
  • It’s Matthew that I adore/You’ll always be my whore #
  • Colour my world/with hope/of lov­ing Jew­el #
  • You prob­a­bly think this song is about Mary­lou. #
  • An Eski­mo showed me a movie/He had recent­ly tak­en of Pikachu #
  • If only I’d thought of the right words/I would­n’t be break­ing apart/All my pic­tures of Sue #
  • If I leave here tomorrow/Would Kooh still remem­ber me? #

Most pet names count, and of course, this works best with names of few­er syl­la­bles. Find the right per­son and the musi­cal world is your pho­net­ic oyster.

Quiet Loudly and the awesome customer experience

Today I bring you an exam­ple of an inde­pen­dent band that seems to be Doing Things Right.™

The band is Brook­lyn’s Qui­et Loud­ly.

I first became aware of the band from the mostly-excellent, but not often released, Cac­tus Killer Radio pod­cast. While the stuff CKR plays is var­ied, the com­mon thread that ties it all togeth­er is that, for the most part, it makes an excel­lent driving-at-night sound­track. I would often wait months to lis­ten to an episode, until find­ing myself alone in the car at night with a long dri­ve ahead of me.

When I lis­ten to an episode of CKR, I almost with­out fail need to make one or two men­tal notes to find out more about a band, or at the very least, find an MP3 of the song that caught my ear. (Oth­er bands I’ve found this way include My Teenage Stride, Spike, and Sing-Sing.) Episode 52, which fea­tured Qui­et Loud­ly’s “Over the Bal­cony,” had me rewind­ing to hear it again, mul­ti­ple times. I ulti­mate­ly shut off my MP3 play­er at the point in the pod­cast where the song began, so I could hear it again the next day.

I tracked the band down to their MySpace page, where I came across a blog entry promis­ing a copy of their never-to-be-released debut album Destroy All Mon­sters to “any­one that asks nice enough.” I went ahead and did that, and before long found a CD‑R and nice hand­writ­ten note in my mail­box. The disc had unfor­tu­nate­ly cracked in tran­sit, but on the strength of “Over the Bal­cony” and the kind ges­ture, I made a men­tal note to buy their soon-to-be-released (sec­ond) debut album, Soul­gaz­er.

The release date must have slipped a bit, because I checked their MySpace a few times in mid-2009 and found no sign of the album. Then it slipped my mind for a num­ber of months before, lo and behold, I checked in and found Soul­gaz­er had been released!

I knew I want­ed it on CD (I like mak­ing my own MP3s, and when disk space gets even cheap­er, FLACs), but the disc was only avail­able from this not-very-reassuring page. I bought it there any­way. I did­n’t get any e‑mails acknowl­edg­ing my pur­chase (aside from the usu­al Pay­Pal receipt), so I was a lit­tle wor­ried, and made a men­tal note to try to find some­one to con­tact if a few days passed with­out word.

What I end­ed up get­ting instead, seem­ing­ly out of the blue, was a ‘fol­low’ noti­fi­ca­tion from qui­et­loud­ly on Twit­ter! I did­n’t real­ize that I had pur­chased the album direct­ly from them. That they take the time to stalk track down their fans online is, well, com­plete­ly fuck­ing awe­some. While it’s typ­i­cal­ly my pol­i­cy to use social net­work­ing ser­vices for only keep­ing up with peo­ple I know, I was glad to make an excep­tion for them (even if most every tweet they tweet is about shows they’re play­ing in New York).

I took the ‘fol­low’ as my receipt and eager­ly await­ed the album’s arrival. It came a week lat­er, but I had­n’t tak­en into account that my only CD play­er was the one in my car, so I spun the disc for the next few dri­ves, wait­ing until I found a com­put­er with an opti­cal dri­ve, on which I could LAME up some MP3s.

I guess I did­n’t give the enve­lope a thor­ough enough look-through at first — and it’s a good thing I did­n’t throw it out — because I had missed some­thing else inside.

See right.

Seri­ous­ly. How awe­some are these guys?

I hope there’s some New York in my future, because I must see Qui­et Loud­ly live, per­haps many times.