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Home » Culture and Criticism

iChing

Submitted by on February 26, 2007 – 12:44 PM4 Comments

I'm hardly the first person to observe this phenomenon, but what the hell: the iTunes shuffle-songs feature knows what I'm thinking. It can sense my moods; it can tell what's going on in my life. It's psychic.

I know, I know. It's an inanimate object programmed to select songs at random for, in this case, a highly superstitious person notorious among her friends for pointing at quotidiana like leaves and bottle caps and exclaiming, "It's an omen!", and also for responding to a statement about X by bursting out with, "Oh my God, that's so funny — my horoscope today totally said that Y and Z" (where Y = ((X – 4)) x state capitals ÷ synonym for "impulsive" and Z = f ' (x) = piece of unfinished writing). My predisposition for finding coincidences everywhere does not make them any more than incidences. When you break up with someone, and every other person on public transit is paired off and PDAing? Same principle. It's no more couples-y around you than before; you just notice it more because that nerve ending is exposed.

But…it's uncanny at times, the way iTunes pulls up a chair and is all, "So, let me tell you." The first relatively warmish day we had last week after what seemed like a year of marrow-gelling cold, I threw on a mere seventeen pieces of outerwear instead of the thirty I'd gotten used to, put my earbuds in, and headed out to run errands, and iTunes grooved four perfect pitches in a row — Ivy's "I've Got A Feeling," a quintessential first-watery-sun-of-spring-on-your-face little song; Johnny Marr and the Healers with "Down On The Corner," and I extra-hate it when music reviews use words to describe the sound that synesthetize it to a nonsensical point, but Marr's guitar is hard to put into words without the help of bad poetry — it's bittersweet, while also having a metallic aspect to it, not the hardness or the coldness of metal, but like a bell, full, with a zing around the edge. I almost always get an idea for a short story, listening to that song, and you can't beat it for driving through the industrial fields on the Turnpike. Then I got a peppy bluegrass number from Dolly Parton, followed by Dr. John's "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." I mean! All up and down Fifth Ave., people parked in sunbeams, drinking coffee, blinking, just happy to stand outside in Brooklyn and not get their faces picked off by the wind, and in my ears Dr. John is going bonkers on the Moog like it's already July at the Stadium. Good stuff.

Thursday, a.k.a. TaxFest '07, found me at the center of a mandala of haphazard filing, staring at a ghostly (but not ghostly enough) paw print on a 1099 and feeling, for obvious reasons, deeply and completely exhausted by the business of living, while medieval chants attempted to soothe me and failed. "This," I thought, "is a job not for nuns, but for shuffle songs," and I rocked the click wheel. First song out of the gate: "This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)" by the Talking Heads. Something of a "…henh?" at first, until I remembered that it's playing during that montage in Wall Street when Bud is yuppie-accoutrementizing his gigantic new apartment. What's that you say, oracle? Riches await me? Sold. Next! …Bon Jovi's "Runaway." I don't think I know wh– actually, yeah, I feel that. Hee. Then a Bob Wills tune, to which I couldn't ascribe any significance except that it's a pick-me-up ("ahhhhh-ha"), and then James Brown on "It's A Man's Man's Man's World," and if you change the lyrics to "this is the Man's world," well, there you go. It's an omen!

So I decided, why not ask it questions — see what the future holds, get its opinion on current events. Again, I'm not the first to have the idea (and I know I've seen a similar thing on a pop-culture blog, where you post the first three songs to come up on shuffle and the bloggers give you a "reading" — if you know the blog I mean, email it to me), but the ancient Greeks had more than one oracle, right?

I'll pose a question to iTunes; it'll have five songs to "answer" with. It's going to spit up some horribly embarrassing music, but in the interests of accurate soothsaying, I won't edit its replies. Who knows, if it does a good enough job I might let it handle The Vine for a week. Heh.

Okay, iChing. Get ready to blow my mind.

How will the Yankees do this season?

"Ain't That Good News," Sam Cooke. Good answer! How about we just quit after one song this time? Heh. I haven't heard this song in ages. Love those horns. … "Crazy Rhythm," from the Bullets Over Broadway soundtrack. So, so far we've had musical callbacks to the Mantle era and to the DiMaggio era. Interesting. … Ohhhhh dear. Green Day, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." I…do not love the story arc I see developing here. I haven't heard this one in awhile either, and it got so overplayed for a while there that I forgot how much I like it, although now I'm picturing Alex Rodriguez playing it over and over again and pouting all Admiral Alienated through his reps in the weight room. Shut up, Alex Rodriguez. … Bob Wills, "Roly-Poly." Okay, this is an outstanding song that you should go download even if you don't like country, because it's hilarious, but I have no idea what iTunes is trying to tell me. Clemens is going to sign with New York, maybe? [rimshot] … Last song: "Girl on the Roof," David Mead. Cute song, but…"love is in the air"?

Conclusion: The Yanks will start out strong, start stinking up the joint around the All-Star Break, and then…growing boys, girls on houses, I don't know. The David Mead is pretty chirpy, so I think it's a positive ending. Postseason berth for sure. (Check my work in October.)

What did you think of the Oscars this year?

HA HA, excellent: Barry Manilow, "Looks Like We Made It." Lord, seriously. The most enjoyable part of the telecast for me? Knowing that we as a culture could finally stop talking about it in about 24 hours. Of course, Manilow is singing about making love while, in another window, I'm looking at Scorsese's scary caps preparing to chomp the mic. Time to hit "skip" here. … Billy Bragg's "Fourteenth of February" from the Walking & Talking soundtrack. Yeah, no idea. I've seen the movie seventy times but I don't remember this song at all, and it's about not remembering the first time he met "you"; he's kind of waxing romantic and then he's all, "But maybe I imagined that." Something about the gap between sentiment and reality, perhaps? … Back on track with the next one, though. The Beatles, "I'm So Tired." Snerk. "I wonder, should I get up / and fix myself a drink?" Two words, John: dance troupe. Do what you have to do. … Well hello Frankie Sweet Music. "All or Nothing At All." Lots you could read into that. Or nothing at all, come to think of it. … Seal, "Crazy." I still dig this song the most, baby, although I almost can't listen to it indoors; I associate it so strongly with sitting in Shadow, cruising over the wide hills on I-78 East, the window cracked to let the smoke out and November in, going from home to home, and I used to drive crazy fast between the speed traps, like 95 mph, because at eighteen you think you understand that you'll die someday, but you don't, you really don't. And it felt like flying, and the harmony here is trite, but trite becomes trite for a reason. Kind of a subtle message, if that's what iTunes intended.

Conclusion: iTunes is over it. Word, iTunes.

Britney Spears. Talk to us about that.

Pity it used "Crazy" already. Maybe it'll go to the Patsy Cline place with i– okay, what? Huey Lewis and the News, "Back In Time." It's off the Back to the Future soundtrack, of course, and ABC Family ran it a bunch of times over the weekend, so obviously I watched it, but aside from my having just seen the movie, I don't get the import. Well, "gotta get back in time" is probably not completely irrelevant — if Britney could flux-capacitate herself back to the pre-Federline era, I don't think she wouldn't — but it's still random. And not one of my favorite Huey songs, either, although his performance in the movie is funny. Moving on. … Um. The theme song from Clone High? "Time to laugh and shiver and cryyyyyyy / Clone Hiiiiiiiiigh"? Okay, it's the extended version, and I just heard the line "our angst is entertaining," so…oh, and there's one about "there's so much to live up to." In case you don't know Clone High, you should, because it is really really funny, so try to rent or buy it today ("…Weslehhhhhh"), but the premise is that clones of famous people all go to high school together in an animated parody of teen soaps. And Michael J. Fox has a one-line cameo in the first episode. It's all a circle of…I don't know what it's a circle of. iTunes is losing the iPlot here a little bit, methinks. Next! …

… Okay…whoa. "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night," Simon & Garfunkel. For those of you who have never heard this song, it's Paul and Art harmonizing on "Silent Night" on one track while a nightly-news broadcast plays underneath, and the top stories include Lenny Bruce's death from an apparent overdose, a casualty list from Vietnam — the usual cheery late-sixties headlines, read by a man whose carapace of Brylcreem you can actually hear, and when you hear it for the first time at age fourteen, it is such an incisive commentary on humanity's capacity for hatred and self-destruction that it blows your fuckin' mind and you make your friends listen to it while you stand directly over them all, "…Right? See? That is fucked up and you know why? You know why? Because it's so true, like, so…so true." It's not actually that deep, in the sense that it's a pretty straightforward slam that doesn't trouble itself with nuance, but maybe iTunes is trying to say something about our relationship to the news, and the fact that we focus on Britney and Anna Nicole because we don't want to, or can't, deal with the news coming out of the Middle East. Not the first time I've heard that said this month. Wow, two songs still left. … Dude, WTF. Next up is a track from the Baseball miniseries. The Dr. John song I mentioned earlier also comes from that, so that part's no big surprise, but this track is Jesse Jackson's eulogy for Jackie Robinson. I don't have much of an opinion on Jackson politically, but the man can speak, and his almost businesslike diction and delivery here is, to me, quite touching — a master of rhetoric trying to keep it from flying apart. And you've got the plaintive piano going the whole time, too. Evidently iTunes is in favor of a perspective check. Duly noted. … "Physical," Olivia Newton-John. "Hor-iz-on-ta-leeeeeeeeeeeee!" Er, what? Did…did iTunes just call Britney Spears a tramp? I think it did.

Conclusion: Britney is a screw-up, and we should all make a command decision to stop caring about her and start engaging with "real" news.

Should I keep my hair the length it is now, or undergo the painful process of growing it out?

I absolutely do not and will probably never understand what the Dukes of Hazzard theme song has to do with my coif. Perhaps iTunes is suggesting that, should I grow my hair out to the "next" hairstyle, it will look like John Schneider's did in 1981. Or Tom Wopat's, which it actually already kind of did when I woke up this morning. Hell if I know, let's hit "skip." … Snow Patrol, "Run." Sure, no problem — from which one? I guess the "I can barely look at you" lyric is supposed to mean something. Oh, who cares; it's a gorgeous song. 'Scuse me one sec, I have to go do the My So-Called Life Angela front-walk post-kiss dance in the living room. See you back here in five minutes. … Awesome. Okay, next song: Suzanne Vega, "In Liverpool." Which is about a boy hurling himself out of a clock tower. Liverpool…Beatles moptop…I should grow it out into a moptop? Yeah, I'm…not going to do that. Next. … Okay, this is embarrassing, but at least I can derive some meaning from it. Foreigner (eek), "Waiting for a Girl Like You" (…aaiiieeeeek-eh!). It is such a cheesy song, Lou Gramm is so humpy and uncomfortable, and the berets that everyone in the video is wearing, eesh. But I could skip to the next song. And I won't. Because I love this song. Especially the synthesizer chime parts. I may even listen to it twice. … The Strokes, "Barely Legal." "I didn't take no shortcuts"? No clue.

Conclusion: Noticing a theme here — a theme of contrasts? The eighties, the aughties? Good songs, oogy songs? Business in the front, party in the back? Yeah. iTunes wants me to get a mullet. Sorry: no.

Last night's joking aside, will Al Gore run for president in '08?

The title of Rufus Wainwright's "Evil Angel" would not seem to bode well; neither do some of the opening lyrics: "You are not allowed to follow me / Into this town square / And then run away." Seems to indicate teasing or a bait-and-switch. … "How can they look into my eyes, and still they don't believe meeee"? I don't know what to make of the next song, "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side," by the Smiths. Apt title, I guess, but it doesn't tell me much. … Ditto the next selection, Joni Mitchell's "Trouble Child." Love that album, not crazy about this particular song, but it's about sort of stewing in your own hopelessness — lots of lyrics about "leaky plans" and peacocks who won't parade. Not looking good for a Gore '08 ticket so far. … But then iTunes throws out "The Rape of the World" by Tracy Chapman. The song is 1) about climate change and environmental issues, in so many words, and 2) seven minutes long, which is a funny dig at Gore's former penchant for boring people if you choose to read it that way. And why not. Once you've chosen to ask the Walkman of the new millennium for advice, it's not like you can really get crazi-er. … Last song is another Joni, "Just Like This Train." Maybe Al really likes Court and Spark? "Lately I don't count on nothing / I just let things slide"? "You can't find your goodness 'cause you lost your heart"?

Conclusion: Gore's going to consider it very seriously, but stick with agitating for action on climate change from outside the system.

What's my iTunescope for the week?

The Cadillacs, "Speedo." No idea. Love the song; don't really need any help on the "become impatient" front. … Ben Folds, "Rockin' The Suburbs." "FUUUUUUUUCK!" Okay, roger that. … "(Do The) Mashed Potato," James Brown. We're into menu suggestions now? Well, it's not like he wants me to do the strip steak. … The Monkees, "You Just May Be The One." Not one of my favorite Monkees songs, but okay. … And bringing up the rear, The Police with "Too Much Information." I've heard that song maybe once in my life, and it has a lot of horns and Sting shouting going on; it's kind of a pale copy of other, better Police songs.

Conclusion: None. No damn clue what's up with these.

Should Sarah set iTunes to song shuffle at her next party?

Supertramp, "Goodbye Stranger"
Fantastic Plastic Machine, "L'Aventure Fantastique"
Nerf Herder, "Welcome to My World"
Dido, "White Flag"
Mylo, "Destroy Rock & Roll"
Conclusion: That…sounds like a no to me. Not sure, though. Let's check one more song to make sure.

Let's Active, "Every Word Means No"

…Well, you don't have to be an iHole about it. Jeez.

[Postscript: I finished writing this and then took a break to go to the P.O. before formatting it. On the way there, what should pop up on shuffle but Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious." I told you guys!]

February 26, 2007

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4 Comments »

  • J. Roberta says:

    Ok, Superstitious Tomato. I can go you one worse. Within the last hour, while writing to a friend about this very phenomenon, I was searching on I-Tunes for a song about setting the clocks back. I read your article and >>Bingo!

  • Jobiska says:

    Found this while searching for the "earbuds don't fit in my ears" Vine. I know I'm responding years out of date, but I was impressed with my Nano on a trip last fall. The Friday after Superstorm Sandy, I actually drove from Philly to CT via the most direct route, e.g. right by NYC and over the GW Bridge and all. Other than all the closed rest stops, my drive was affected very little, surprisingly. Anyway, Art Garfunkel's "Heart in New York" played as I drove along with the skyline to my right, and exactly as I passed the marker on the GW bridge that showed I was in the city, he sang "Here's to you, New York!"

    Then on the way home as I sighted my home town skyline, it started playing "The Sound of Philadelphia."

    It also delights in pushing me over the edge of the empty nest; whenever I am particularly missing my college freshman song, it insists upon playing either his favorite artists or kids-growing-up tearjerkers.

  • Jobiska says:

    college SON, not song.

  • […] Nation did a column on using iTunes to tell the future. It's kinda great; most of her stuff […]

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