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:

Continue read­ing “Winamp — “feel the love””

  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.