DIGITAL DREAMS
iPod, Therefore I Am, Dylan Jones [Weidenfield & Nicholson, 12.99]
It's all got completely out of hand I reckon. I mean this iPod lark. I've got nothing against Dylan Jones [though, come to think of it, editing GQ magazine isn't good], and I even like some of the music lists he offers as appendices here [though you could argue 80 pages of lists is padding it out a bit], but I have come to the conclusion that the iPod hasn't changed the face of music, although Jones would no doubt contest this.

Jones wants to be a Paul Morley, but he isn't. Nowhere near. He's not witty enough or smartarse enough, his prose is lacklustre and dull. It's ok in the chapters describing the development and marketing of the iPod, but in the chapters where he talks about his 'personal journey through music' [reach for your sick bag] it isn't; it's all over the place, it's trying too hard, and it oversimplifies.

In fact I think that's what I've really got against Jones, apart from him being one of those fashionable editors who edit advertorial-filled glossy magazines which pretend to be hip: his oversimplification, his assumption that by downloading 50 Sinatra tunes or jazz tunes or anything else [or 112 Van Morrison tunes? get a life!] and that by making a quick list, you can "know" all there is to know about a genre. You can't.

You see, however nice it seems that you can have a good record collection on your iPod and to hand I've come to the conclusion that it just reduces it to muzak. I've never got on with Walkmans really; unless I'm somewhere really awful I want to know what's going on around me - hear it, even. Now, I'm a miserable git who likes being on my own, but as I get older I spend more and more time without music, because I actually want to spend time listening, not playing it in the background. Music isn't - or doesn't have to be; it obviously can - just a soundtrack to our lives. My iPod doesn't get any more use than my old Walkman these days; the most use it gets is in the car, where it certainly is nice not to have to scramble through dusty cassettes in the glove compartment.

Jones, and many other iPod disciples, seem to me the equivalent of those hi-fi buffs who have stereos worth thousands of pounds but only a dozen CDs to play on it. That is, they love the equipment not the music. Actually, my music collection won't fit on to my iPod, no. And even if it could, I wouldn't want it to. Playing the iPod back through the stereo is ok but it doesn't sound very good quality; I want to hold the album sleeves and lyric notes whilst I listen. There is some music I simply can't imagine listening to in other situations other than my lounge with the stereo; and there is lots of music doesn't sound very good through headphones.

Jones may enjoy the mental kick that his iPod and accompanying gadgets has given him, and the fact that he has sorted out his music collection, sieved, ordered and edited? Surely, that's nothing to do with the iPod, it's just a mid-life crisis. He obviously relishes making playlists. Me? I've never been much of a compilation man. I have 300+ tracks in my iPod's 'singles' playlist, and they get heavy car rotation on shuffle, but really that's so I don't have to listen to the radio, nothing more or less. Most of the time I want to listen to albums the way their makers made and sequenced them, or if I want the best of then I'll use the skip button on my CD player or the arm on my record deck.

I continue to acknowledge that it is probably a good thing that the major music labels are having to rethink ideas of distribution, sales and album-filler, and that it is a good thing we can take thousands of music tracks with us if we want, but let's not go over-the-top. Just as for many of us LPs still sound better and remain a more intrinsically aesthetic experience, the iPod is only a tape recorder, a digital jukebox; in fact, at it's simplest level [the iShuffle] it's actually just a memory stick with a basic programme installed.

So whoopedoop for Dylan Jones' intelligent but ultimately mediocre cash-in book. And whoopedoop for Dylan Jones researching some Apple history and for the iPod spurring him onto cod-philosophical discourse and a bit of musical filing and editing. Whoopedoop for Apple's design sense and for them making millions of pounds out of us, and whoopedoop for the digital music revolution [not least because the price of secondhand vinyl has come crashing down]. MP3 players? Downloads? File sharing? CD burners? Streaming? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Rock & roll. Whoopedoop.

© 2005 Rupert Loydell

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