When you put your iPod on shuffle and “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners is the first song to play, you know the iPod gods have a sense of humor.
I’ve been doing a lot of this sort of thing lately. Putting my iPod on shuffle, that is. There’s such a swamp-load of music on that beast (74.3 gigabytes, to be exact) that sometimes I don’t even know what to listen to. So I leave my fate to technology. And, with alarming frequency, I feel like there’s a little Oompa Loompa in there who knows exactly what I want. There’s a sort of blissful dream logic in hearing “Venus in Furs” by The Velvet Underground sandwiched between songs by the Pixies and Interpol. It can really give you a slice of “the big picture” of music history (i.e. — who has influenced who and all that music geek wet dream hullabaloo). It can also be like going to a rummage sale. My iPod has so much random music on it that various friends have passed down to me over the years, a huge chunk of which I’ve never even listened to. So the “shuffle” tactic can be a good getting-to-know-you exercise.
But there’s also a spiny flipside to shuffling things up a bit. Sometimes songs from my childhood will begin playing, and I’ll realize that they used to be so magical, but I’ve completely outgrown them. Hearing the old tunes through an adult set of ears can make me wish I’d left my shiny memories of them untouched and unblemished.
The Offspring was my favorite band from kindergarten to about 10th grade. I saw the group live four or five times, and each time I was in absolute heaven. So it goes without saying that I have some pretty fond memories of those So-Cal pranksters. But hearing them now, I can barely stomach them. I want so badly to listen to “Original Prankster” and bask in warm nostalgia, but it just won’t compute. It sounds like Kidz Bop to me now.
The same thing happens when I listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They snatched the title of “Josh’s Favorite Band” from The Offspring during my junior year of high school and held it until Radiohead bested them during my senior year (which is when everything changed, by the way). But now that I’m all growed-up with my left-field music tastes and existential crises, I can’t help but perceive the Chilis as a bit juvenile and bland, even if they’re very talented musicians. But part of me still wishes I could still go doe-eyed and gaga over lyrics like “you try to be a lady, but you’re walking like a sauerkraut.”
Revisiting these old flames and not enjoying their company anymore makes me feel a bit like a coal-hearted Scrooge, steamrolling over his past with an elitist lawnmower.
This is probably just me being cynically overdramatic, because there are just as many songs from my youth that’ll pop up on shuffle and sound even better now than they did years ago. These are the real zingers. Just the other day, when “Razor Boy” by Steely Dan randomly came swelling in hi-fi out of my speakers, it was like a double shot of nostalgia. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go sit in the corner of my apartment, cry and reminisce about my senior year of high school or happy-dance around the living room. In reality, I didn’t wind up doing either. But I felt really, really great regardless.
And something happened a couple of days ago that made me feel significantly less Grinch-like. My 12-year-old sister told me she wanted me to hear her favorite song. I was bracing for a Natasha Bedingfield-induced brain freeze. But instead, I was whammed with “Your Cover’s Blown” by Belle and Sebastian, my absolute favorite song circa my summer before college. I had given it to her that summer when I’d commandeered her iPod and filled it with music, but I had never really expected her to listen to it. And hearing it pumping through her speakers like an old friend who hasn’t changed a bit, aware that my little sister and I share a favorite song, was exactly the kind of heart-thawing experience I needed. Moments like that really kick me in the ass.
So I guess the moral of the story is this: Although my taste has certainly evolved and I’m not going to like all the same music I did a few years back, the past is not all lost and there’s a time and a place for everything. Maybe when I’m going through my mid-life crisis, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” will be exactly what I need. But right now, it isn’t. And I suppose I’ll just have to deal with that and keep on shuffling along.