On the Importance of the iPod, Over the Years

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I turned twenty-two yesterday. I heard Taylor Swift’s hit song 22 probably more than twenty-two times yesterday. Probably twenty-three

Turning twenty-two means that it’s been twelve years since I owned my first iPod. At ten, to celebrate moving into double-digits, my parents bought me an iPod Mini, in bright blue. I think they bought it me because they were sick of the amount of CDs I’d be taking on holiday with me to wherever it was we were going to. We used to go for long walks, and I’d have to tuck a CD player into the front pocket of my rucksack and walk real slow and real steady to ensure that it never skipped. It always took us longer, and I know it drove them mad sometimes, but I was so worried about scratching the discs – back then they meant everything to me. I used to love going to HMV on the way to my Grandmother’s house and buying whatever record Kerrang! recommended for that week. I earned thirty pounds each Sunday for delivering papers, and with it I always bought three CDs and a pack of chewing gum on the Monday afternoon. I didn’t save much money over the six years that I worked as a paper boy, but I definitely never regretted spending it. By the age of ten I probably had a pretty substantial CD collection for a kid that age, or at least I think I did, because I know that when that iPod was given to me it took me a while to burn all of my CDs onto it.

That iPod changed a lot for me in terms of music. It made me start using Limewire (remember that), and it gave me immediate access to my library wherever I was (provided that I remembered to charge it). It went everywhere with me, and was almost always in use. I was quiet during lengthy car journeys, and often forget to take my earphones out at the dinner table. It made me want to buy more music. It made me want to get better at BrickBreaker. It made music what it is to me today, I suppose. It was a constant companion, and it made me turn away from reading so much – made me put down Darren Shan novels and jam a bit of Foo Fighters instead. It made me feel cool, cooler than lugging around a CD or Walkman ever did.  I still have that iPod, now scratched to Hell and fully non-functional. It’s sat in a drawer of my bedside table back up north, in my parents’ house. I like to think that the kid I was, and the music he loved, is still in there somewhere – impossible to reach now, but there nonetheless. It’s like a safe I have no way to open. The reason it’s still there is because I used it right until the very last second, right until it was beyond repair. When it died and refused to switch back on I shipped it off to Apple with a letter begging them to patch it up and return it to me. When I found out there was nothing they could do, it killed me. I felt like I should be burying the iPod in the garden, like some people did with dead pets or treasured possessions. I see it every now and then, when I’m scavenging for a lost memory stick back, or when I’m hunting down an auxiliary cable in the mess of wires in that drawer back home. It’s still there; it’ll probably always be there. It’ll become a relic, and it’ll still be a reminder.

I bought my next iPod myself, probably immediately after, or at least very soon after the demise of the first one. After having something like that in my pocket all the time I felt lost without it. I went back to the CD player for a little while, but it was never the same. I’d made the player redundant by neglecting it, like the Lego I eventually stopped playing with and which now sits in someone else’s attic. It was 2006 when I upgraded to a fifth-generation iPod with a capacity of 60GB, and it took me a while to fill it. My iPod Mini had only been 4GB, and I’d probably filled it to within the megabyte, or maybe an even smaller whatever-byte. 60GB felt like unparalleled musical freedom, it felt limitless, a figure too grand to wrap my twelve-year old brain around. It felt like heaven. It lasted me two years, and now it sits in the same drawer, nestled underneath its smaller predecessor.

And this is where things start getting silly.

I have three iPod’s right now. Three, and they all work just fine. They’re all 160GB each, and two of them are full. The last one – I’m still working on it. Nobody really needs three iPods, not when they have a phone, a laptop and a record player as well. Nobody really needs two iPods either. Most people these days don’t even need one – not with phone storage the way it is. The thing is though, that I have 380GBs of music in my iTunes library. It’s a lot of music, almost definitely too much. It’d take me 141 days to listen to it all, and I’ve thought about going for it once or twice. It seems a novel idea to start way back at The Beatles and work my way up to Creeper. I’d probably hear myself age. I could do it on the go as well, because all of that music is on all three of those iPods. But more than that, all of myself is on those iPods as well, each one spanning three or four years of my life and containing the music that sound-tracked almost every second of them. I turn on the first iPod (2007-2010) and find the first Panic! At The Disco record paused part-way through, a firm reminder of my emo days, when I watched too much Scuzz and hadn’t even kissed a girl yet. I find The Black Parade and remember taking pride in seeing it top the charts when every day at school I’d had someone take the piss because the music I tended to like was different. I remember making pretty girls mixtapes by scrolling through my library song by song, the click of the wheel keeping me up at night as I hummed lines and tried to remember which artist sang them. I remember rushing around Hull looking for Mayday Parade’s A Lesson In Romantics because I hadn’t had a change to burn it to my iPod yet, and we were flying to Belgium the next day. I remember Paramore and my infatuation with Hayley Williams (which still hasn’t truly gone away). I remember that way too well. I remember the first time I listened to The Wonder Years, hitting play as my family and I walked up Langdale Pike, and I remember seeing the world from the top as I spun ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and felt like a fucking king.

The second of the three iPod’s (2010-2014) changes things a great deal, and the angsty emo days give way to the likes of the more experimental Genghis Tron and The Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s full of bands who really pushed the envelope, in terms of creativity, complexity and heaviness. It sees me try to be a lot cooler than I actually was, scouring the underground music scheme of Chicago from a bedroom in Blackburn. It sees me start listening to jazz and the blues, to Miles Davis in sweet abundance. It documents an emergence of my love for the singer / songwriter genre, the first feature of Damien Rice and Laura Marling. Scrolling through it now it’s apparent that I started trying a lot harder to find something different, to really work out what kind of listener I was. It turns out I was an eclectic one. I associate that iPod with finishing high school, starting college and the general confusion of those few years, where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or where it was taking me. The collection is varied because I was using it to find a footing. It has a lot of Drake on it, and every song that Frank Turner had ever recorded pre-2014. It jumps from Mastodon to Ed Sheeran, from Marilyn Manson to Matt Corby. It’s a bit of mess stylistically, but I was a bit of a mess in reality – my library seems to reflect that. The fondest memory I have from that iPod is that it was there when everything finally started to make sense, atop a tour bus in Berlin, where The Menzingers and On The Impossible Past sparked something special inside me. I rode that bus around the city all day, refusing to get off because I was so content to be there with that iPod, and that record, and with nostalgia seeping into my bones and putting the past into perspective. It made me want to read Lolita again.

And then there’s my current iPod, which I’ve had for three years now and is still going strong. I don’t use it as much as I used the others, tending to take my phone to Uni with me instead for the convenience it offers me. Over the years I’ve neglected those three iPod’s a little, with my skinny jeans making it more logical to just carry one small brick instead of two – that normally being my phone. It’s a shame, because my third iPod has had its moments, still slowly filling itself with songs the most cohesive in terms of their genre. I like everything on there, and took a lot of time to make sure the songs on it where just right. With my current iPod I can hit shuffle and enjoy whatever it throws at me. I trust it to make good decisions; It always does. My newest iPod is the one that travelled around America with me, the one which sound-tracked the most eye-opening period of my life so far. It lay next to me by Georgia rivers after long bike rides, and it accompanied me up to the top of the Space Needle in Seattle. It was the ever-dependable companion when I was travelling alone, the reminder of home, and the reminder of everywhere else in-between. It survived my crappy lightweight suitcase, and although I lost money and lost a credit card I never lost my iPod, knowing that to lose it would matter more to me that leaving $200 in an airbnb room by mistake when I’d already caught the plane. It’s a special piece of tech, one which was there on that Brooklyn Beach when I realised how far I’d come and much it meant to me. It played ‘Threads’ at just the right moment, in just the right place, and it made me feel as right as I’ve ever really felt about anything.

I look back through all of those iPods, starting with the Billy Talent days of my first iPod Mini, and I trace a journey – the journey of myself growing up and using music as a means to help me do so. Even if the screens are cracked and the sound quality isn’t great, their sentimental value means more to me now than their capacity to store and play music. They’re parts of me, and to dispose of them would be to dispose of a small part of myself from whichever period of my life they spent living in my back pocket.

So I think I’ll keep them around, and maybe I’ll add a fourth some day. Or a fifth, or a sixth, or… you get the picture.

 

Thanks for reading about my iPod infatuation,

Craig (who doesn’t really review music anymore)

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