Nov 052010
 

Originally published January 30, 2007. (I’ve since acquired an iPod but stand behind these views.)

A lot of my friends ask me why I have held out on the iPod revolution. “Hey, Mr. Mod,” I hear almost weekly, “why are you still holding out on the iPod revolution?”

They tell me I can carry 85,000 songs with me wherever I go. They tell me I can hit Shuffle and not hear the same song twice for the next 3 years. They tell me the iTunes store has almost everything. They tell me I can just delete the songs I’d have to skip on vinyl or a CD. They tell me about the weird and wonderful combinations of songs that just happen to pop up in random order, say Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That” followed by Glen Campbell’s “Galveston” followed by something from that Outkast soundtrack album, which really wasn’t that bad.

Truth be told, whenever I hear about one of these fantastic random sequence experiences a friend had, I don’t know what to say. It’s an I had to be there moment. I had to be in my friend’s head. My friend’s bopping along in his or her little iShuffle, headphones helping to mainline the grooves, and there’s little room for me in the equation. I can’t dislodge an earbud from my friend’s ear and share in the iGroove, can I?

It used to be, when faced with the faraway eyes of an iProselyte, I’d go on some rant about how I didn’t want to be beholden to the Apple Empire, dammit! That never quite cut it. I don’t know if it was my delivery or what. Then I tried blaming the earbuds, but someone was bound to point out other headphone alternatives that were much more comfortable, that had better sound quality, that blocked out all surrounding noises. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand,” they might say, “it’s hearing the damn pilot tell me we’re now flying over Lake Michigan when I’ve got some Mothers cranking.”

I regret the years I tried to convince people of the reasons for my not wanting an iPod based on some socially or technologically relevant grounds. These days I’m up front about it:

Hey man, simply put, headphones aren’t my bag.

Headphones make me feel closed in and closed up. No matter how great it can sound mainlining those grooves, there comes a point when I feel guilty, when I feel like a Joy Miser. I want to share my joy. I’m tempted to shove it down people’s throats. Think of potheads and cokeheads. Potheads want to pass it on. So long as he doesn’t bogart it, they’d be happy to pass it to The Man himself, certain that it would loosen the 4×4 impaled in his ass. Paranoid cokeheads, meanwhile, hunch over their lines and “bumps,” careful that what doesn’t make it up the rolled up bill is wiped up with their index finger for a little taster on the gums.

Headphones have their practical use, of course, just like the pharmaceutical coke a doctor gave me in high school before shoving my broken nose back into place had its use. It’s the recreational use of headphones that I liken to the antisocial impulses of coke culture.

The early rap dudes had the right idea walking around town with their ghetto blasters cranked to the high heavens. Maybe not the right idea but a positive impulse. They wanted to pass it on. They thought they could change the world, not just horde their private stash.

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  31 Responses to “Hey Man, Simply Put, Headphones Aren’t My Bag”

  1. So what’s your bitch about the Outkast soundtrack, anyway? You sure do seem to think it sucks, considering I’m pretty sure you haven’t actually heard it…

  2. Mr. Moderator

    Hey man, what I wrote is merely a reflection of what I see and hear around me. I was passing no judgement, merely holding a mirror up to society.

    How is that recent Outkast album? You’re right, I’ve never heard more than 4 opening measures of a song from it. Is it better than people think?

    Anyone seen Andre 3000’s kids’ cartoon? It’s pretty good. It sends out a good message about the value of being creative and getting along.

  3. dbuskirk

    It is odd when you have to defend yourself for not adopting a new technology, I swear, you can be excited about all sorts of music even if they it is not being heard through your ear-buds, Bud.

    As for walking around inside your own private Miles Davis concert, I really do like to leave open the possibilty of engagement when I go out for a stroll as well as leaving open the possibility I might hear somebody else’s good taste in music. The I-Pod is selling a whole new way to listen to music and maybe this is great for those who have been too busy conquering the world to throw on the last couple Johnny Cash CDs. Me, I’ve always kept a steady date with my hi-fi and I’ve always been on speaking terms with the clerks at the music emporium. I don’t need to be born again.

    -db
    np Woody Shaw – BLACKSTONE LEGACY (’71)

  4. Mr. Moderator

    You are changing the world, DJ DB! Keep up the good work. Let freeform ring.

  5. mwall

    I love the defenses on the list from the folks who want to walk around with their ear-buds on. I can just picture it; what a bunch of losers. Bet they’re the kind who sometimes even walk around with phone headsets for work. Still, don’t think what I’m saying means I don’t appreciate the fact that, as Ian Hunter said, “Rock ‘n roll’s a loser’s game.”

  6. Mr. Moderator

    I love the defenses on the list from the folks who want to walk around with their ear-buds on. I can just picture it; what a bunch of losers. Bet they’re the kind who sometimes even walk around with phone headsets for work. Still, don’t think what I’m saying means I don’t appreciate the fact that, as Ian Hunter said, “Rock ‘n roll’s a loser’s game.”

    I wonder if they can even hear us, Mark. Come on, cokeheads headphones defendants. Do you I need to explain myself any longer regarding this iPod issue?

  7. How is that recent Outkast album? You’re right, I’ve never heard more than 4 opening measures of a song from it. Is it better than people think?

    Not really. It’s a soundtrack to a movie nobody saw because it was in and out of theatres in a week, so the songs are advancing a plot no one knows. So basically, it’s their version of Prince’s PARADE. Like that album, there are definite high points, but there are also serious low points, including a fairly pointless extended guitar solo. I’m also growing kind of sick of the two of them not actually working together.

    So basically, it’s easily their weakest album but it has its moments.

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    Mark/Jim: these “headphone” posts of yours are Very Sad Things. Just thought you ought to know.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    Mark/Jim: these “headphone” posts of yours are Very Sad Things. Just thought you ought to know.

    Fritz, you owe it to us – you owe it to teh Hall – to explain what you mean by this statement. I sense you’re passing judgement on us. Tell us why.

  10. hrrundivbakshi

    You sense I’m being judgemental, huh?

    I love the defenses on the list from the folks who insist on walking around without ear-buds on. I can just picture it; what a bunch of losers. Bet they’re the kind who insist on being tethered to their desk phones. Still, don’t think what I’m saying means I don’t appreciate the fact that, as Ian Hunter said, “Rock ‘n roll’s a loser’s game.”

  11. BigSteve

    I only have a nano. I’ve 240+ gigabytes on my harddrive, so even the biggest ipod doesn’t let me take my whole collection around with me. I wear mine mostly at the gym and mostly for self-protection against the ‘top 5 hits in the top 5 genres’ service they pipe in there. It does make it a bit more difficult to interact with people there, but I have to do it maintain my sanity. I’ve gotta say too that I’ve been unpleasantly surprised by how often it needs charging.

    I have fond memories of wearing mine as I walked around Chicago and DC on visits, but not being able to hear what’s going on around me is a bit dangerous. I find I’m more likely to bump into people inadvertantly, and I have to be extra careful crossing the street.

    I also have misgivings about carrying around a small device costing (I think) $250 that is very easy to misplace or get stolen. But unlike Jim I do not miss the days when people ‘shared’ their musical taste with me via boomboxes. Passing cars are bad enough.

  12. general slocum

    Yes, Mr. Moderator. One denture-rattling gripe at a time, please. The post is about headphones, isn’t it? Is it also about various CDs you don’t like? And how you wish people would share these CDs with you more by shedding their headphones? And how iPods just suck? I use heapdphones primarily when people nearby are sleeping. Otherwise, I carry around my 60GB of fun for speaker use – in the car, upstairs and downstairs at home – and it’s better than a Walkman, by about, well, 59GB or so. So let’s have the gripe about headphones on its own terms, and then get into why it’s the iPod (this time) that’s causing the iDeath of Rock and Roll. As for your friends’ tediousness explaining the synchronicity their iPod has masterminded in its shuffling, is it any more tedious than hearing them explain their own brilliance in juxtaposing Joy Division and Spill the Wine on a mix tape? That is a matter of genuinely boring humans, friend. (And yes, I own a mirror, thank you.) I heart my iPod. I still buy lps and CDs. This only makes me a better man than you in a technical sort of way. But keep jogging, old man. You said when you got all these grey hairs over the next hill into bloggsburg, there’d be pudding and Barney Miller. Deliver!

  13. Mr. Moderator

    General Slocum,

    You’ve hit me with low blows on multiple levels. I think it’s hypocritical of you to take this approach. You want to hold me to my views on headphones, then I suggest you counter with nothing but attackss on my views on headphones!

    I will say that the juxtapositions of a successful mix tape are intentional, not the result of master marketing schemes masquerading as coincidence!

  14. BigSteve

    Jim says:

    It used to be, when faced with the faraway eyes of an iProselyte, I’d go on some rant about how I didn’t want to be beholden to the Apple Empire, dammit! That never quite cut it.

    I’m not sure why this “doesn’t cut it.” The fact that the playback device is basically just part of a scheme to control the recorded music market sucks big time. DRM, the proprietary software, locking the ipod to a single workstation — all of this is reason enough to fight the Apple Empire. Even though I gave in, I can support anyone who fights the good fight.

  15. Mr. Moderator

    Where were you when I needed you for agreement in the first place? In the future, I know where to turn.

  16. Ahem. I’m a bit late to the party, and you are all cracking me up – great post Mr. Mod! But seriously, I still own a walkman, and make mix tapes regularly, although friends refuse them as gifts now saying that they’d rather convert the cassettes to mp3 files and upload them to their iPods so they can iTune into them into their iCars… and it kinda hurts. I use it because I can’t afford an iPod, and also because my Sony walkman (it only takes one AA and cost me $1 on sale at FYE – seriously!) has a continuous turnover from side A to side B aaand I have wicked mix tape collection that lives in the past and present. There’s nothing like a 45 minute block of music and then a break. I actually had to break down and buy a cellphone with internet capability (Paris has her Tinkerbell, I have my BlackBerry) that allows me to use it for an mp3 player (coincidentally only) because when I first moved to Philly, I was living in the west side (deep west) and the only internet that I could access were in a few cafes and the library with limited time and censored sites – and no I’m not talking censored porn, I’m talking myspace. I love headphones, but I hate earbuds. I can however appreciate some awesome headphones (outside only please – I have sensitive ears!) as long as they don’t block out traffic or my surroundings, because knowing my luck – I would – get robbed. Shoot.

  17. general slocum

    Hey, Mr. Mod. I am free to respond to your entire post, even if one of my critiques is that the post is rambling or incoherent. So if you can’t eat four courses, only order one!
    As far as iPods being tools of The Man, and making you listen to certain music and not other music, I say Huh? You yourself got my crackly Moby Grape pick, lovingly ripped from vinyl onto mp3, and even the Kenny Roberts yodelling masterpiece, from an old 78 ripped by Mike Ace and snail-mailed to me, didn’t you? Here’s the big secret about the iPod: you can put whateve the hell you want on it. I do. The beauty of the information age (and it took me a while to see any beauty) is that there’s way too much of it. Just try doing a google search for the band The The. Tee hee. No one company can control it all, though Waner has tried for decades… Jump on in, the water’s fine! Viva la difference, man.

  18. general slocum

    That’s *Warner*. Warner. Not Waner. Sorry.

  19. Mr. Moderator

    general slocum wrote:

    Hey, Mr. Mod. I am free to respond to your entire post, even if one of my critiques is that the post is rambling or incoherent.

    You’re missing my larger point about pot vs coke culture. Had you received the dutchie when passed, my overall post would have read much more concisely and coherently.

  20. I love my iPod. I was late to the party too, not picking one up until last summer. I rarely use the shuffle feature, but I agree with Mr. Mod that when it’s magical it’s a “you had to be there” moment.

    I like my iPod for the simple fact that I can load the 3 or 4 new CDs I just picked up onto it, and I can rotate through them easily without having to carry around the actual CDs, etc.

    BTW….LOVING the new site Mr. Mod!!!!! My work blocks the RTH e-mails, and I rarely have the time at night or after work to respond/reply. Having the site will make it MUCH EASIER for this town folk to participate in the discussions from now on.

  21. I drank the iKool-aid in 1995 (40 gig HP iPod, Gen II) and have not looked back (or looked at my cd collection) since.

    Headphones are for mowing the lawn or being on an airplane IMO (both for music and noise cancelling)

    What the iPod does is let me be my own DJ anywhere in the world. I listen at work, in the car, at home…all on speakers

    I had no idea that I would have a hankerin’ for Mark Knopfler’s Golden Heart today…but I was able to pull it up an play it from my office stereo.

    I picked up the remaster / reissue of Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure at a used Cd store on Monday, drove home, put it on my iTunes / ipod, looked at the liner notes and then put the CD on the big bookshelf in the basement where it will collect dust.

    To me it’s 100% convenience. I do not carry cash or write checks now that I have a check card.

    The funny thing is how kids under 18 don’t really have any love for the CD (let alone other formats) at all. The Cd is in trouble…soon any non-file format will be for “collecors”

    My 65 year old dad is a bigger iPod freak than I am. he had it hard-wired into his car and ONLY listens on shuffle. When he finds a song he doesn’t know (one that I put on his ipod ususally), he will find the full album and check it out. He knows more about The Clash, The Killers, Elvis Costello and The BoDeans than most 65 year olds.

  22. Count me in on Team Coke. I love my headphones (not earbuds, though). I am very fond of blocking out all other noise and just living in my selfish, insular world.

    I have slowly realized over the years that most people have pretty bad taste in music and are quite content with their choices. I don’t want to hear their music and they don’t want to hear mine, and I’m A-Okay with that. And they don’t need to be cornered at a cocktail party listening to some old guy yammer on about Bob Wills or the Plimsouls or some nonsense. Occasionally, if I’m talking with someone and I get the sense that they might be interested in a song or a group that they may not have heard of, I will burn them a disc (or in the past, make them a tape). If they are talking about something that sounds interesting to me, I will check the music out on my own. But in general, I no longer try to lead people toward the path to righteousness.

    My only complaint about the technology of the iPod is that you no longer have to sit through songs that are merely good. With an album or a tape, I might just let Good Day Sunshine play through because even though it’s lame, it’s not worth getting up to lift the needle. Now, I have the ability to keep my finger on the trigger and move on to the next song the instant I get bored. I’ve mentioned here before that I fear the day is coming where, even though I have 14,000 songs on my iPod, I will find myself just listening to “September Gurls” and “the Israelites” over and over again.

  23. I should say that I walk around town a lot and that’s when I use the head phones. If I’m at home/work/car, it goes over the speakers.

  24. BigSteve

    How do you avoid getting run over while walking around town with ‘phones on, cdm?

  25. I don’t love the earbuds either but I don’t think I’d walk around with huge cans on my head either. I only use them on trains or planes. However, I love the iPod dock that allows me to take 4 – 5000 songs out to my deck or on vacation, plus it charges the iPod while it sits idle. Can’t beat that. Plus it is nice to accumulate odds and ends and spare tracks on mp3 while keeping the LPs and CDs for listening straight through.

  26. I keep my peepers open.

    Just when I went out for lunch today, my ’90’s era Sony headphones started shorting out. I’m going to need a new par soon. Does anyone have a recommendation for a moderately priced, comfortable good sounding set of headphones? I don’t care if they are too big and preposterous looking to wear outside.

  27. I’m an anti-social shit, and I must admit that I passed CDM, shoulder to shoulder going in opposite directions wallking along the Parkway a couple of months back after a Free Library event…and didn’t tip him off that I existed. He had on his suit, probably on his walk home from a late night at the office, and some big cans that would’ve made him feel right at home swiggin’ the Jack with Mick’n’Keef. But even I’m not anti-social enough to walk around deaf to the world.

  28. Thanks for maintaining a respectful distance, geo.

  29. Sorry I didn’t see you, by the way. Going to gbv tomorrow?

  30. […] Townspeople with their earbuds and smartphones pocketed and, rather, respectfully blasting their boomboxes, enthusiastically (or grumpily, as it may be) sharing their latest musical obsessions. Rarely, if […]

  31. […] When can I listen to my Straight Outta Compton album? Can I play it in my backyard with my fellow middle-age, upper middle-class white friends this weekend? Can I play it in the car, with the windows up, as I drive around with my boys, or even alone? Can I play it while I’m cooking dinner? Can I play it on my iPod while I’m working out at the gym? Do I need to beware of the people around me, in case they can hear the music bleeding through my headphones? You know, headphones aren’t my bag. […]

 
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