Friday, April 24, 2020

My iPod of Hope and Dreams

Today's one of those quarantine days when I came a little untethered. I didn't have a regular school day, this was a day for writing reports for my classes. This meant it was easier to get distracted by the news during the course of my day. These days looking at the news just makes me anxious, angry, and depressed. I've come to realize that there's just no plan here, even by the best informed, most well-meaning leaders. I wonder if I will even be starting classes in person come fall.

So when I was in the kitchen making dinner, I decided to bust my iPod and its now anquated player out of mothballs and play music from it while I cooked. I just hit play, and the playlist was one I made at a time when I was teaching myself guitar and thinking about the kind of music I would make if I could. Oh was I naive. My guitar now has as much dust on it as my iPod did.

Both were products of my two year stint in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a very meaningful time in my life. I had moved there after grad school to take a "visiting" professor job. It's when my now wife and I started dating, and she bought me the iPod as a gift. On the back she had it personalized with my name and my newly minted "Dr." title.

It was 30GB, top of the line for 2007. I filled it up with my CDs, as well as CDs I borrowed from the amazing collection at the Grand Rapids public library. My obsessions at the time with cool jazz, alternative hip-hop, and folk music are well-represented on the iPod. Even though I added a lot to it later, it's still an artifact from that transitional time in my life. It's reminder of the hopes and dreams I had as I was hitting my early 30s. Some, like my academic career, ended up in dead ends. Others, like my new relationship with my wife, flowered into something more beautiful than I could have dreamed.

As I have been listening to my iPod tonight I have been hearing some good stuff that takes me back. Here are some of the more notable songs that popped up.

The Jam, "That's Entertainment"

This song captures the ennui of day to day city living like no other. A friend who grew up in the UK when this song came out said it was the perfect summation of Thatcher-era England. In these quarantine days it feels spiritually appropriate.

Glen Hansard, "Trying to Pull Myself Away"

I was really into the Once soundtrack at that time. This song is edgier and angstier than a lot of the other stuff on that album. This breakup song stands in for a lot of other stuff, like when Hansard yells that "I'm caught in a pattern and I can't escape." I played this one a lot when I was having job market angst and despairing of finding a permanent position.

Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell, "The Circus Is Leaving Town"

Lanegan and Campbell's Ballad of the Broken Seas was one of my favorite albums of the time and for my money one of the best forgotten records of the 2000s. The moody folk and Lanegan's husky voice were made for having along in cold Michigan winters. Give it a listen.

Son Volt, "Windfall"

When Uncle Tupelo broke up I was firmly in team Son Volt, rather than Wilco. Jay Farrar seemed like the bigger talent, and his band made the better first record. Trace is one I still listen to, even if I have subsequently become a Wilco superfan. This song has so much country soul in it, and it's strange that Farrar never seemed to find it again. May the wind take your troubles away.

Rod Stewart, "Gasoline Alley" 

Those Michigan days coincided with the high point of my obsession with early Rod Stewart and the Faces. I was like a demented preacher, telling everyone that before he sold out that Stewart made several albums of amazing music. I still believe that. This song is about leaving where you're from, growing old, and wishing you could go back there. Let's just say that I am feeling that sentiment pretty hard right now.

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