Lost in Music

I’ve been a slow convert to the idea of the personal music player. During the 80s and 90s I owned a series of cheap Walkmans, but I tended to use them sparingly, on long bus trips and similar. I guess I just didn’t like having to haul around a swag of messy, easily-damaged tapes. The sound quality was never great and either the tapes or the Walkman were always breaking. It just wasn’t worth the effort.

I was pleased to discover that the latest CD Walkmans played MP3 files. The average cd holds up to 170 MP3s, which means about 10 hours of music. I could fit all of the Cocteau Twins’ albums on one cd. With just two or three cds I could be kept happy for a couple of days. Of course, the downside was the size and shape of the compact disc. It just doesn’t fit easily into the average pocket.

The real revolution came about with the advent of the MP3 player. After scraping together enough money I bought a 60gb iPod, nearly enough to house my entire cd collection. There was not only room for the Cocteau Twins’ studio albums, there was room for all of their singles, eps, live releases, rarities and bootlegs, and much, much more. And all of this fit into something about the size of a cigarette box. The wonder of technology!

All of a sudden the iPod became indispensable. I took it to work, the supermarket, in the car, on walks, plane trips, and even to bed. I put together elaborate playlists to accompany me on my travels. I had a ‘shopping mix’, an ‘exercise mix’ and a ‘commuter mix’. And it wasn’t just the music I was carrying around, it was the memories associated with that music. I would be sitting on the bus on the way into work and ‘More Songs About Buildings And Food’ by Talking Heads might come on. Suddenly I was transported to my last year at High School. Or a song from The Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ or ‘Faith’ would start, and it was 1981 and I’m walking home from my friend’s house in Ingle Farm. It’s the middle of winter and Robert Smith’s wail seems to capture the desolation of the wet, empty streets perfectly.

I liked the way that the personal music player disengaged me from some aspects of reality. The trip to the supermarket no longer involved listening to the shop’s muzak, the screeching radio or other shopper’s conversations; it was now soundtracked by Depeche Mode, Sleater-Kinney or Primal Scream. The lunch-hour walk to the post-office was now enlivened by the latest Doves or Belle And Sebastian lp.

A friend of mine has said that they couldn’t listen to an iPod or other personal music player. Apart from the discomfit of the earplugs, they like hearing the sounds of suburbia: traffic, machinery, birds, people, the wind. Frankly, I don’t miss them. I only worry about the car I won’t hear when I stumble into the road, my senses focused elsewhere, lost in music.

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