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?
I 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.
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. ↩
Oh, and by the way, MP3s were these things people used to listen to before there was YouTube. ↩
And, shit, I may — Winamp was doing skeumorphics before Apple did skeumorphics before Apple stopped doing skeumorphics. ↩
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?
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. ↩
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 #
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.
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.