iPod shame

Phil Ford

Julian Sanchez has tagged us with the challenge of naming the five most embarrassing tracks on our iPods. Jonathan has weighed in against the very concept of guilty pleasures, and for me being a musicologist means never having to say you're sorry, so I dunno . . . though I have some dorky stuff on my iPod, to be sure. Among other things, I have

1. the theme from Arthur ("The Best You Can Do") by Burt Bacharach, from the Rhino 3-disk Bacharach collection The Look of Love, which I just bought and which is the shizznit (the set, I mean, not so much the song)

2. Pat Boone singing "Tutti Frutti"

3. Rod McKuen's Beatsville, any one track of which is utterly embarrassing for all concerned.

4. the horribly unfunny between-song patter between Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Junior  from The Rat Pack Live at the Sands

5. hours and hours of 1970s left-wing extremists railing against Pig Amerikkka

any one of which is potentially embarrassing, depending on where you are. I wouldn't want the Department of Homeland Security to open up my laptop at an airport to be greeted by Donald "Cinque" DeFreeze calling for death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people. I'd have to explain that I'm a musicologist and I write about things like this. The same goes for almost everything else on this list. The only reason I have Pat Boone singing "Tutti Frutti" is that it's really interesting to play it back-to-back with the Little Richard version for your students — you can get some great conversations going about white appropriation of black music, authenticity, etc. (Boone’s recording of “Tutti Frutti” is arguably more influential than the Little Richard original because it works so well in rock-critical discourse as the traumatic primal scene of co-optation.) So I have the same excuse for everything on my iPod: this track is relevant to my music-historical interests. And even if it isn't (like the Bacharach song) loungy cheese is kind of cool if you're in a retro-ironical mood, or something, right? So, like I said: being a musicologist means never having to say you're sorry.

Although, now that I think of it, my iPod has embarrassed me on a couple of occasions when I've been teaching. Now, I should say right now that I'm a huge fan of Dan Savage and think that his podcast is the most enlightening and psychologically acute treatment of human relationships in the pop-cultural landscape. Really: it's awesome. I'd tell my Mom to listen to it, if she had an iPod. But I'd just as soon not have my students know that I'm a devoted listener, so of course one day, when I'm getting my computer hooked up to the "smart classroom" cart in the seminar room and getting iTunes fired up to play something or other, the window opens up to my Savage Love playlist, which I don't notice until I realize that all my grad students are staring up at the screen in silence. (Nik breaks the silence: "this says so much.") Something similar happened when I was teaching my American Music in the Cold War course back at Texas and everyone in the class was staring at the open iTunes window that lists the albums you've loaded in. Right up at the top of the list is Rush's 2112 (alphabetical, see?), and it slowly occurs to me that no-one's listening to my lecture—they're trying to figure out what music I listen to. And I should note parenthetically that I don't listen to Rush because it's Relevant To My Interests, I listen to it because it rocks (however dorkily) and because I grew up in Sudbury Ontario in the 1970s. One of my students asks, "you listen to Rush?" Um, OK, yes, I do. "Awesome." Which goes to show you, I guess, that what you might feel is a guilty pleasure is could be someone else's cool. It never occurred to me that my undergrads, who were all born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, would have mythologized the 1970s as the Last Good Time. Growing up in a hard rock mining town in the 1970s and listening to Rush didn't sound depressing to them, it sounded kind of cool. Well, OK, I'll take it.


About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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3 Responses to iPod shame

  1. Things that I should be embarassed about but I’m not:
    1. Zlad — Elektronic Supersonik
    2. Zlad — Antipope (Yes, I have both Zlad songs. That’s just how I roll.)
    3. Madonna — Like A Prayer (Front 242 Remix)
    4. Bunk9 – Doubleclick My Heart (faux pop song sung by computer singers about comupter love. Totally Cop Show.)
    5. The Box Tops — The Letter
    Things which I’m actually somewhat embarassed about:
    1. Neil Young — Hey Hey My My (Acoustic)
    2. Cansei de Ser Sexy — Music is my Hot Hot Sex
    3. The Killers — (A few different things)
    4. Coldplay — (A few different things)
    5. The Beatles — Helter Skelter (This is the most embarassing of all. I hate the Beatles on principle, and yet this song actually kicks butt.)
    Speaking of “The Letter,” this live performance is amazing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD9mCp8SifM
    They’re clearly trying to sell it as really dark, but they’re having too much fun and they keep breaking character.

  2. MJ says:

    Yes, what is it today with this retro stuff? My 13 year old listens to some of the same music I listened to at his age. I don’t remember doing the same thing with MY parents’ music. Very strange. Not sure if I should feel emotionally bonded by the experience or just icky.

  3. Heather says:

    Bwah ha ha I have The Savage Lovecast in my iTunes too. I hope it’s just a matter of time before Dan goes to a biweekly schedule and then to a daily show.
    Just scrolled through my lists of Songs and Albums and realize that I have no shame. I would happily say “but just listen!” and press Play on even the dorkiest tracks, including the ones that I justify as “kids’ music” like Trout Fishing in America, and Garrison Keillor’s “Songs of the Cat” album.

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