Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ode to iTunes. . . and a request.

I love the Beatles. In fact, as I begin to write this (at half past one in the morning, diss not quite done, but June 18 nonetheless), Paul McCartney is enjoying the one birthday all us Beatle fans -- we Paul devotees, in particular -- have looked forward to (or dreaded): his 64th. ("Will you still need me, will you still feed me. . .") The song was his tribute to the kind of music he grew up listening to with his pianist Dad Jim (Happy Father's Day, natch). Of course, it's also the kind of loopy, hokey song that, had Paul performed it with Wings, we all would have despised. Context is everything. Because it was a Beatle song, and because it was on Sgt. Pepper, we consider it genius. John hated it. How sad that Julian (John's first son; whither Valotte?) ended up covering it for a commercial.

Of course, it's also sad that Paul really won't enjoy this day, what with his prettier-Linda surrogate wife Heather Mills not only divorcing him (no needing or feeding there!), but also planning to go on Larry King to tell us all about Macca's foibles and how she's been abused by the media. Ugh.

It's weird, of course, that she's my age. I used to fantasize that Paul would collect me from my homeroom at Great Oak Middle School, in Oxford, Ct., to make me the youngest member of a rock band (he let Linda sing, why not me?).

But, truth is, I am interrupting my random World Cup noodlings here to issue an ode to iTunes. No, you can't get the Beatles catalogue on iTunes -- remember, Michael Jackson owns the rights to that, after Paul had advised him on the "Say say say" set that the only sure way to make money in music was through owning publishing rights. Ferget Jacko's nose or Julian's cover of "When I'm 64" -- every commercial I see with a Beatles song for a jingle makes me want to jump out the bathroom window. Just as exasperating, though, the "remaining" Beatles (what a gloomy phrase) continue to hassle Steve Jobs over brand image. Give it up, lads: we know the difference between a laptop and a pop group!

Besides, iTunes is allowing me to enjoy music in a way I haven't since the days of vinyl. Listening to Sgt.Pepper -- or Rubber Soul or Revolver or Abbey Road -- wasn't just about getting goosebumps from those groovy harmonies, or appreciating those sudden, Beatle-sharp shifts into a minor key. It was about studying the album art, reading the lyrics, and soaking up every available fact and figure (that makes me pretty hard to beat in a Beatles trivia contest).

When CDs rendered vinyl obsolete, they also prevented a subsequent "Back in Black," "Bat Out of Hell," or "The Wall" from visually capturing our imagination and becoming an iconic cultural image. Remember the scene in Spinal Tap, when the record company rejects the band's idea for the cover art of Smell the Glove? Tee hee.

But I don't know the names of any songs released since 1986 -- never mind the lyrics (and not just REM). If I cared enough to try to prise that little booklet from the CD case, I promptly lost it, and broke the case, to be left with a mute little disc that, despite early claims that CDs were indestructible, ended up getting scratched and damaged. Nice coaster.

With iTunes, however, I feel like a teenager again. Not only is the music right there, and easily identified, on my PowerBook, but I can listen while I pour over the artist bio, study the album art, and see if Big Brother at iTunes is right, that because I purchased Pet Sounds, I might also like the Pixies' Doolittle (I do!), or coz I bought If You're Feeling Sinister, I might like The Fiery Furnaces (eh, not so much). I'm a junkie again, and I love it.

My one request -- besides forcing Macca and Ringo to give it up, and Jacko to allow iTunes to distribute the catalogue -- is to do more with the album art. A thumbnail at the corner of the screen isn't enough -- it's too small, and distracting more than anything. Why not split the screen between the cover and the info? Or program it so the album art temporarily becomes the computer wall paper? If iTunes is helping to make music consumption the varied sensory pleasure it was with record albums, they could enhance this experience even more.


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