I've never had much of a desire to amass an army and unite nearly the entirety of Earth's civilized empires under my own iron rule, so I'd probably be out of line if I compared myself to Alexander the Great. Still, I have to admit that when I completed The Big Rip - a six-week period during which I rebuilt my iTunes library, ripping every track of every CD I've ever bought in my life - there was a certain amount of Weeping For I Had Reached The Sea And There Were No Worlds Left To Conquer.
I've been listening to MP3s since 1998. Those of you who were alive back then remember the early problems of digital music. Software was rudimentary, producing low-bitrate files that were often filled with stutters. Plus, who ripped entire albums? Back then, only James Bond villains could afford hard-drives with more than a gigabyte of capacity.
As a result, my iTunes library consisted of some tracks from some CDs, all ripped at poor quality. So five cartons of discs and my Mac G3 tower came out of storage and the guest room became the dedicated Burn Unit. It took me six weeks of sporadic work, but I got through it… and I came to a number of important realizations in the process:
My shame threshold for pop music hovers somewhere underneath Paula Abdul but above Lionel Ritchie Over the past six weeks, I handled every disc I've ever bought. Yes, I could have refused to rip something as girly as a disc of Shut Up And Dance extended remixes. But that would suggest I'm not secure about my he-manly hetero masculinity, and besides, these few aberrations are more than made up for by the quantity of Clash and Iggy Pop albums I found. And I must admit that the process of ironing my silk underpants goes so much quicker when I'm accompanied by the pulsing techno-beat of Abdul's Cold Hearted Snake.
But then I came across Lionel Ritchie's Greatest Hits, and here my strength of character faltered. Ritchie specializes in the sort of drippy, over-produced love tunes whose sole enduring effect is to convince all the single women at the wedding reception that the groom will be available again in nine to seventeen months. For now, the Lionel Ritchie CD sits in darkness, waiting. Like all evil, it's patient - confident that its time shall inevitably come.
I am an idiot And it's not because I've bought The Who's Who's Next four times, as it turns out. Yes, a less-creative observer would incorrectly conclude that I'm a disorganized spendthrift. But in truth, it's obvious that my enthusiasm for this album was such that it couldn't be suitably contained within a single purchase.
Nope, I'm an idiot for choosing to re-rip all 600 discs as 256K AAC files. "I'm only going to do this once," I reasoned, "so I'm going to rip at nearly the highest possible quality."
I was ripping to a 250-gig hard drive, so I had space to spare.
Only after I finished The Big Rip did it occur to me that the drive on my iPod is only 15 gigs. So bang, by going to 256K instead of 128K, I've gained a negligible increase in quality and lost about 30-40 per cent of my iPod's song-storage capacity. And choosing AAC instead of MP3 means I've saved myself the hassle and inconvenience of being able to listen to any of these songs on devices that don't run iTunes, like my Home Media-enabled TiVO or my PDA.
But that's okay, because:
There are way bigger idiots than me, and they've all contributed CD title and track listings to the online CD database The one or two times I popped in a CD for which iTunes couldn't find a match, I diligently transcribed information for every field of every track and uploaded it. I'm not the sort of person who expresses their hostility against Humanity by typing in Elvis Costello as the Artist of My Aim Is True's first track, and then enters "(Same Guy)" for each track thereafter. And those who contributed to the Repo Man soundtrack have names, sir or madam. They are Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Fear, not "Various."
Digital music will wreck everything Listening to iTunes is utter bliss with 600 complete albums in the library. I keep it on Shuffle Play and I'm constantly hearing songs that (a) I've owned for ten years, but (b) have never heard and (c) love.
I'm too young to have bought my first grown-up records on LP, but it reminds me of what we've lost: the ability to experience an album as an uninterrupted block of music. First we moved to CDs that let us skip songs at the press of a button. Now, we rip tracks to libraries. Songs that failed to make an immediate impression don't get ripped, or (thanks to the iTunes Store) are never even purchased. We're condemning ourselves to a diet of hit singles.
And we're completely losing the visceral experience of associating songs with album art. I didn't even miss this until I saw the cover to Joe Jackson's Look Sharp! for the first time in five years, and yes, my heart skipped a beat.
All that's pretty illuminating. But I was sort of disturbed by The Big Rip's final lesson. 10,000 songs were sitting in my iTunes library, and it was time to start slurping playlists down to my iPod. iTunes got started but then it huffily announced that it had encountered an I/O error and refused to proceed.
So after six weeks of diligent effort to ensure that I'd finally have the richest possible assortment of music in my pocket, the final lesson is apparently "Our God is uncaring and unfeeling God, and He only turns His attention to us when he desires cheap amusement". This wasn't a shock to me - He'd made that point pretty clear when I asked Suzanne Montgomery to the junior prom - but I mean, He doesn't have to be such a jerk about it, you know?