Nobody knows me like my iPod…

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We’ve all done this.  We’re in a “mood.”  Nothing seems to be able to snap us out of it.  I’ve had plenty of them lately…too many to count (or be proud of).

My salve tends to be going out for a walk.  The mind clears, the heart breathes in oxygen, and, more than occasionally, the ears need some musical stimulation to get the works going.

Our musical choices used to be limited to the tape that happened to be in our Walkman, or the CD that happened to be in our Discman, but with the advent of the iPod, we have broken past the 80-120 minute portable music barrier. My digital library currently consists of about 7500 tracks – a tally limited only by my own glacial pace ripping my CD collection – but that’s plenty for me to hit “Random” and be surprised.

Sometimes I feel that there’s a human element in my iPod; like it almost senses my mood and feeds me whatever musical nourishment I might require at the moment.  We vibe.  The other day was one of those times.  I’ve detailed in a previous post about my dwindling luck in this supposedly robust job market – well, the latest rejection arrived in my email inbox early that afternoon, and I knew I needed to hit the streets.  Pronto.

So, I did.  And I hit “Random.”  Here are a few of the selections my pocket Music Director picked for me:

“Streets of Love” by the Rolling Stones.  I’m walking the streets, so it’s literally appropriate, and the melancholy vibe fits my mood at that exact moment.  Sing that falsetto, Mick.

“Sun Goddess” by Earth, Wind & Fire with Ramsey Lewis, the live version from Gratitude.  This is where my iThingy decided that pity time was over, better times are surely on the horizon, and I should just take a deep breath and smile.  I am generally not a fan of live tracks, but this one KILLS the studio version in every way.  (And, I just love that they left in the little mixing faux pas at the end where the cheering crowd is audible through the un-muted mic on Ramsey’s Fender Rhodes, with its vibrato effect making it sound as if the entire crowd is covering and uncovering their mouths mid-cheer in staccato rhythm, like 15,000 kids playing “Indian.”)

“17 Days” by Prince.  Well, now it’s just time to dance, and this Prince B-side (to “When Doves Cry”) is a great choice for that.  It’s got that instantly recognizable Prince sound circa 1983-84, with those synth drums that permeated 1999, Purple Rain and Around The World in a Day, not to mention countless tracks he produced at the time for André Cymone, Sheila E. and Vanity, for whom this was originally a demo.  This brings me back to a happy, carefree time in my life, and a smile does indeed appear imminent.

“Better Off Dead” by Bill Withers.  Subject matter notwithstanding, this is one kick-ass soul track that never fails to make me smile. The musicians’ interplay – that groove! – and Withers’ vocal performance is just note perfect. Stephen Stills adds some tasty guitar toward the end. And, it has a shocking ending that I rank as the best album closer ever.

“Gotta Get a Grip On You, Pt. II” by Robert Palmer.  Only makes me wish we could hear “Part I.”  This is from my favorite Palmer album, Some People Can Do What They Like, from when he was more inspired by Little Feat and New Orleans funk than his harder-rocking (and bigger-selling) later efforts. You’d have never known he was a lily white English boy, who looks like he should be doing your taxes. If you’re unfamiliar with Palmer’s first three albums, I’d suggest you study up.

“Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway.  As the first notes of this exquisite track hit my lucky eardrums, I was a different man than when I left the house.  It also didn’t escape me that the incredible voice I was hearing was emanating from a deeply troubled man, whose life ended early and tragically – and that no matter how insurmountable my own troubles seemed only moments earlier, there exist much bigger ones I’m lucky enough not to have. “Hang onto the world as it spins around / Just don’t let the spin get you down…”  Indeed.

“Kind Spirit” by Steely Dan.  As the clouds in my head had finally begun to clear, a gorgeous sunset was beginning, and this unreleased demo from a bootleg CD of Gaucho outtakes was a perfectly-timed soundtrack, and an apt closer.  Though the verses are nothing but “na na na” placeholders for lyrics that ultimately never came, the chorus is exquisitely fleshed-out and in glorious sync with the visual I’m now sitting and marveling at: “Kind spirit, don’t go / Tell me why / the time has come to fly on by / Kind spirit, don’t go / Such a shame / The room won’t be the same / Don’t leave me here to fade without your flame…

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And the sun did set.  But not mine…

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” — Berthold Auerbach

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