Last year, Tadpole’s grandparents got him an iPod for his birthday, and Pat and I got him a gift certificate for iTunes to download music for it. He’s made good use of the gift certificate, and he’s also taken CDs we already own and copied them onto his computer, and from there to the iPod. Meanwhile, I’ve also loaded a lot of our CDs onto my computer in Albuquerque, and a few onto the computer here at Five O’Clock Somewhere.
Earlier this week, Tadpole noticed the dearth of music on this computer, so he plugged in his iPod and copied what he had on it. I gained some fascinating insights. For one thing, I don’t need to be worried about Tadpole’s listening habits. He’s not listening to anything that advocates violence or wanton sexual activity. His playlist is hugely eclectic – some classical, some country, some alternative rock, some classic rock, some folk, a good deal of Frank Sinatra, a whole lot of Jimmy Buffett, a whole lot of Yo Yo Ma.
But more interesting than what he’s listening to is the way he’s listening to it.
Originally, records came on clumsy discs in which the sound waves were mimicked in spiral grooves, and the disc was spun at 78 revolutions per minute while a needle picked up vibrations from the groove and, in early technology physically, and later through electrical pickups, converted the vibrations to sound waves. Each disc could contain one song on each side, provided the song wasn’t too long. Record companies could sell collections of songs by packaging several discs in a volume that resembled a photo album; such a collection came to be known as an album.
Then in the late 1950s, technology improved, and the “microgroove” record was invented. This groove was much narrower than the groove in the old 78s, and so more music could be recorded in less space. The technology took two paths. The 45-RPM single continued the tradition of the old 78s, with each record having one song on each side. The 33-RPM album put a whole album onto a single disc, so one wouldn’t have to change records every three or four minutes. The 45 had higher fidelity, but the 33 won out on the basis of convenience.
So when I was a teenager, it was the age of the 33, album-oriented rock. Yeah, if I liked a particular individual song, I could go out and buy the single, but it just didn’t make sense. It was just too much hassle to play a single if I didn’t want to be fiddling with the stereo all night long. I could buy the album that included the single, and in most cases, the album contained other worthwhile music that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to hear.
Thus, when I listen to music, I have become accustomed to getting the whole album, and listening to everything on the album, in the order that it is recorded on the album.
However, Tadpole isn’t restricted by the expectations of the album. When he goes online to buy tunes, he doesn’t have to take the whole album, and he’s not restricted by the bothersome technology of the old 45 – he doesn’t have to fiddle with changing the record. He can pick and choose. So there are several singles on his playlist, and he doesn’t even have the B side that the old 45s had. And there are many albums that he has chosen to download only partially, where I wish he would have downloaded the whole thing, such as The Best of BTO – he got nine of the 12 tracks. Why not all 12?
Even when it’s a CD we already own, so he doesn’t have to pay for the music, he often picks and chooses what he puts on his iPod, rather than having the whole album. So he’s left a couple of tracks off Jimmy Buffett’s License to Chill. And he left several tracks, including “The Silverton,” off when he copied C.W. McCall’s Greatest Hits. I can’t fathom why.
The other musical difference between Tadpole and his parents is the advent of “shuffle play.” After Tadpole had done his uploading from his iPod, I set the computer to playing one of my favorites, the soundtrack from Evita. At first, I was baffled, because things were playing out of order. But then I realized Tadpole had set the player to “shuffle play,” which plays the songs in random order. I grew up with albums, and the songs on the albums were in a certain order, and that was the order they were in, and that was that. Really, it’s not all that big of a deal, so I don’t really know why I actually get so distressed about the songs coming in the “wrong” order. Yeah, for something like Evita, which has a plot, the order is important. But for something that doesn’t have a plot, why am I so put out?
Count it as a generational difference, I guess. I’m sure it’s a blessing that the problem I have with my kid’s choice of music is that his way of listening to it is alien, rather than that the music itself is dangerous.