Monday, May 22, 2006

Reconstructing a Running Memory

Not that the memory was running, but I am trying to remember something I thought of while running. Usually I carry around a little digital recorded to “write down” whatever witticism pops into my mind – only to erase it later when it turns out not to be so funny after all. For example, apropos of nothing, today I mumbled, “Chutzpah – could you say that it’s Jubris?” Initially, I thought it was clever, but first of all chutzpah isn’t so much unwarranted pride or arrogance, but rather gumption, and second, well, I’m German, and I really should watch what I say. So I erased it and only present it here as an example of my way of (not) working.

Anyway, my running memory, I think, is as follows. I was rounding the final (for me) bend of Prospect Park - right by Grand Army Plaza, if you’re interested, and just past the Long Meadow if you’re not – and my iPod, in it’s infinite wisdom, chose to play “Cry Cry Cry” by the Steve Miller Band. Now for some reason I’m not proud for liking the Steve Miller Band, yet, every time I hear the few hits that made them/him great, I get this feeling of coming home, of things just being right. There’s nothing special about it. The words aren’t terribly inventive (I’m not one to go Whooo when someone says “gangster of love”) and he doesn’t really stretch or reach for anything, but things fall nicely into place.
But that’s exactly it. Sometimes it’s nice (terrible word, but appropriate) when artists choose to be craftsmen (sorry, craftspeople) and don’t reach. The playing is just confident and right. The licks aren’t flashy, but he sure knows in advance how his guitar is going to sound and that’s just fine for him. Wheee-ooo, wheee-ooo, wheee-ooo, wheee-ooo; buh-bubadump bah-duh bah-duh, buh-bubadump bah-duh bah-duh. If you know the song, I think you’ll be humming it now, too.

There, step one of my memory done. Ah, but there’s also this. I have a tendency to take something that people are likely to know and then explain what I mean by giving a more obscure example. For example, to explain how I feel about Steve Miller (to myself, during my run – now you know why I run alone) I thought of seeing Etta Jones (vcl) and Houston Person (ts). They’ve been touring together for eons, and Houston Person punctuates her singing with bluesy tenor sax licks, which, frankly, he must be tired of, but he just does them so well it’s frightening. It’s relaxed, not pushed, not bored, but just there when it needs to be. It’s like perfect cadences in Classical Music (i.e., from the fin-de-dixhuitieme-siecle). See, there I go again, trying to explain something by painting myself into a more obscure corner.

Step two of my memory done. Next I realized how thankful I was for the iPod. Not only is the shuffle program somehow omniscient (as I was running by the lake, it gave me a little boost by choosing the Theme to the Magnificent Seven) but it doesn’t skip! I know I’m na├»ve, but that still gets me. I’ve seen a few things, but this technology, like birth, blows my mind. First, it’s so small! And holds so many songs! (I’m talking about the iPod.) As usual, I’m way behind the times with the mP3 fascination, but I thought it was just some overblown hoopla until I got my own. It’s tiny! Yet it sounds great!

So now we get to step four. Of course my kids won’t find the iPod to be anything special. It’s not a new observation that turntables and tape players are archaic, stone-age tools for them, like manual typewriters or silverware. (What?! Yes, they’ve moved beyond. At least I’m guessing it’s a generational thing, otherwise I’d have to think they’re ill-mannered, and I couldn’t possibly think that of my own kids, could I?) Anyway, I was trying to get beyond the usual observations about kids and their approach to technology and I realized, as tedious as it was to make tapes or turn records over, at least we had some manual connection to what was going on. I remember I could blast music so loud it would make the needle skip. The music would virtually self-destruct! Whoa! Like feedback with a microphone, but less painful to the ears. But not only that. As annoying as it was to change batteries and to hear the walkman play things more and more out of tune until it became too warbly and unbearable, at least we knew that changing the batteries would fix this problem. Cleaning dust off of needles gave new clarity (I still don’t believe cleaning tape heads did jack s**t, but whatever). Whacking a receiver on the side could reconnect loose wires. But when an iPod goes, and it wasn’t the juice that ran out – that’s real frustration. No screwdriver will help you there.

Mechanical problems are solved relatively easily – at least in theory: take it apart, make sure all the parts are clean and not bent out of shape (and are not lost!!), put it together, and voila! But software problems? Eek!
And then I was stuck. Should I be jealous of the younger generations because they don’t have to struggle with iffy, cheap hardware that gives out at any moment? Or should I feel sorry for them because the breakdowns they encounter have deeper causes?

I don’t know. (I think this is the point I was trying to reach in reconstructing the memory.)

And by that time I got to the drug store and the closed pharmacy window and decided to skip getting anything at all and just went home.

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