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I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

How I spent my summer (vacation)

By Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Sept. 11, 2009

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

"I got a girl." – Tripping Daisy, 1995

On our desert island, a two-story bungalow faces the lagoon, and goats, donkeys, and rabbits forage around the lush tropicalia that parts at the tree line opening to the sea.

Our raft there – you'd swear it was an ordinary mattress – usually arrived like Paul Simon, late in the evening. If we were lucky, it was Gordon Lightfoot, sundown. Time to take a load off, either way, bury the day. Conversation assumes a Miami moon and in some other room, Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia showers a quiet storm of soul: "Expressway (to Your Heart)," the Delfonics' "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)," "Drowning in the Sea of Love." On our South Seas sanctuary of the imagination, the Three Degrees – "When Will I See You Again," and MFSB's "T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)" – bore no relation to the weather.

No postage stamps or property taxes. No deadlines. No passwords and no reception. No appointments, errands, or meetings. No Republicans.

One night, our unreality check washed up on girlfriend's porch as we sat listening to a still 11pm weeknight on the Eastside. Once she'd demonstrated her iPhone's tiny external speaker, it was only a matter of time and place before its iTunes got tapped as a 1970s transistor radio. Scrolling past my Guns n' Roses holdings toward her Mediterranean of Morrissey, I punched up that which she'd used to amplify this technological boon one morning on our raft, the first disc I burned her: Heat Wave, by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, 1963.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Rhino Records' regal 4-CD hatbox, 2003's One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost & Found, transforms women into Holly Golightly at the drop of a tennis visor, but 28 minutes of Heat Wave cooks Breakfast at Tiffany's. As with all Motown LPs before Marvin Gaye's What's Going On in 1971, the Vandellas' second album couches its No. 4 chart smash, "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave," in covers and filler, only in this case, the place-keepers keep pace with the derby winner.

Reeves' burning, yearning titular exclamation opens Heat Wave like puberty, only here comes Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry's "Then He Kissed Me," tripping the lights fantastic with all the gravity of a chandelier crashing down on the prom. "Hey There Lonely Boy" dampens more formal wear, the two Vandellas intoning "bom-bom-bom" between Reeves' brass-lined croon, and "Danke Schoen" exacts your vocal toll, but Pete Seeger's skittering "If I Had a Hammer" commits the ultimate act of imprimatur, ringing civil rights with the righteous "hammer of justice," l-o-v-e.

"Did you see that plane?" I offhand.

"You mean the huge jet that just flew over my head?!," she asks incredulously.

Bestest girlfriend already rated an iPod simply for being a Taurus, but on that deserted strip of Chicon, Heat Wave became our tropic getaway, competing with a cricket-pocked absence of civilization. Here was a desert island disc as bright as the North Star yet also wearing SPF 60 sunscreen and talking volleyball with Tom Hanks.

iPodSolar, Cast Away.


'Girls Just Want to Have Fun'

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

As performed by its co-author, the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" shook Bass Concert Hall on Easter Sunday, April 12. Biblically. Levitation, reverberation: Judas Priest. No less mythic on the host's video mix at intermission was Shocking Blue martyr Mariska Veres, lip-syncing her goddess on a mountain romp, "Venus," at IMAX heights.

"What was that other thing I wanted?," came the puzzlement a Saturday or two later as we fed girlfriend's lap-bound laptop more Morrissey and woke to punk Monks doc The Transatlantic Feedback.

The Shocking Blue! Singles A's and B's, "47 Tracks on 2 CDs."

That's the moment 40 watts clicked on overhead. Not when "If I Had a Hammer" had taken a ball-peen to her iPhone. Not at Best Buy when they unlocked the iPod cabinet. Between the couch and my modest music library (remember the Library of Alexandria?) musical interface had smiled. Monks, Shocking Blue, every last Okkervil River disc known to man – even then, tinnitus kept me from hearing the voice.

Build the iPod, and she will ...

Memorial Day weekend two weeks later wasn't the first time. That was the previous weekend: Feed the laptop. Feed the laptop. Four Tops throttle Levi Stubbs as Little Shop of Horrors' digestive tract: "Feed me, Seymore!" Feel the purring whir as the CD enters the side slot, tremble with excitement at the poodley-pink sound at download climax. Do it while watching a movie! Do it as dinner's being made. Do it after she's gone to bed and before she wakes up. That was Memorial Day "staycation." Before I cracked – literally. As in frothing on crack.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

The Sound of the Smiths, given. The Cure had already iPhone-d home, but no Heaven Up Here, Echo & the Bunnymen? Carpenters to My Bloody Valentine, this girl's born 1970s, breathed 1980s, bought 1990s. Meaning David Bowie, Luther Vandross, Mudhoney, but my gorging on entire discographies of the Pixies and the Pogues while feeling guilty for only 33 songs of Sand in the Vaseline: Talking Heads Popular Favorites left no alternative except for the Cyndi Lauper principle to supersede any aesthetic, scientific, or historic master plan. "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and L7's "Shitlist" bullets girl groups from Ronnie Spector to Cat Power.

Babes in Toyland, Sleater-Kinney, one sock, two sock. Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald: engagement ring and wedding band. Sinead O'Connor, and what? No Kate Bush? Sorry, honey, all my Björk's a DualDisc disaster and won't download. Blondie, Pat Benatar (Tropico), and hey, ever hear Patti Smith do "When Doves Cry"? Pretenders – one, two, three. Say, Cyndi Lauper, She's So Unusual reissue or The Essential Cyndi Lauper, including The Goonies theme?

Madonna's more than just The Immaculate Collection, by the way.

Requests sailed through – Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton – while on the administrative level, amendments passed easily (Neko Case) despite often simply piggybacking (St. Vincent) onto the overall legislation (Marianne Faithfull). One extreme scenario (Concrete Blonde) wasn't one at all. Annie Lennox/Eurythmics – which intersection? Joan Jett doing Lucinda Williams' mascara: Way.

Red tape ensnared Sade, but overall R&B got Pentagon money: Aretha, Diana, Roberta. Nina Simone (Baltimore), Anita Baker, Santigold, and the 2-CD encore Bad Girls deluxe edition by Donna Summer fit like 30 minutes at the 90210 Goodwill.


'Sacred Common Ground'

Don Pullen's piano clusters scream aviary à la caged leopard.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Toward the end of his life, jazz standard Blue Note became his higher ground. In trio (Random Thoughts), in arms with musical wife and tenor saxophonist George Adams (Song Everlasting), and particularly within his Afro-Brazilian band of the 1990s, Pullen aired out his avant-barbs, which untangled into lyrical meditation. Live ... Again: Live at Montreux stretches global jams from the preceding Kele Mou Bana and peaks on Adams' ode, "Ah George, We Hardly Knew Ya." Pullen's Sacred Common Ground, cut just prior to his death from lymphoma in 1995, vetted his Cherokee blood with authenticated tribal blues.

Sacred Common Ground made perfect sense for a woman whose cheekbones speak American Indian. Surprises (School House Rock), land mines (Richard Pryor), and so-called DVD-style Easter eggs (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) already abounded, but wait 'til Pullen's "Reservation Blues" shuffles on, I thought. She asked for Mingus, who once employed Pullen & Adams, plus Coltrane, Monk, Miles Davis – Mount Rushmore. Kind of Blue made valedictorian, but following a second Bass Concert Hall quake weeks after Morrissey, a recount might have gone the way of Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus.

"I could raffle off my iPod architecture!" I boasted.

The money could go to rehab – mine. We'd started at 1,000 songs, marked 3,000, marveled at 5,000, and now 10,000 appeared a foregone conclusion.

If you build it ...

I asked a guy at work how many songs he had on his iPod.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

"Tooo many, 3,000."

Intervention, help! The lady of the house went tubing.

Which, as circumstance dictated, left me all by my lonesome with her laptop – for the whole weekend, as it turned out. Staycation, weeks ago already, had been concentrated in a specific constellation: Motown, Stax, Atlantic R&B. Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Sly Stone, Al Green, Prince. Bill Withers, where's my Donny Hathaway? Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, meet Ice-T, O.G. Original Gangster. The missus' acquiescence to hip-hop, Del tha Funky Homosapien, missed sound check.

Cadillac Records the film drove the blues drop: Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Etta James. Dollop Shemekia Copeland and B.B. King and move on to New Orleans: Fats Domino, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers' Fiyo on the Bayou, Yellow Moon, Brother's Keeper. Forgot the Meters? "Cissy Strut" shows up on Rhino's 6-CD jack-in-the-box, Beg, Scream & Shout! The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul, all 144 songs. The label's pair of Mardi 'Til You Drop! samplers, 50 tracks between them, flash for beads Crescent City-style.

A gold rush ensued, encrusted veins of Beatles, Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen. Whatever Queenie Pie wanted, lover boy stepped to the plate: a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade-sized piñata of Iggy Pop, Sir Richard Thompson, and all six volumes of Pop in Germany.

"All of it?"

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

"All of it."

The horse reared up at Beck for no good reason and never followed through on Tori Amos after date night with her Man Who Fell to Earth performance at the Long Center. Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, and the Decemberists were silently substituted. Can, MC5, ABBA. I was manic. Stacks of CDs on my kitchen table rose like Troy. Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Wilco, X, four discs of Nuggets, and how many off the Zombies box?

Saturday night, as Austin re-enacted high Rome for the 290,000th straight sell-out, I paced my kitchen alone, cursing the gods and grinding my teeth like Bogotá, counting ice ages between poodley-pinks. The Mayans/Aztecs/Incas endured this? Crawling along cholera-dusted floorboards, I exhumed my The Library of Congress Presents: Historic Presidential Speeches (1908-1993) sampler.

Don Pullen had already dilated my pupils, fortunately.

MyPod.


'Amerikkka's Most Wanted'

I reviewed Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten, released August/September in 1991, together as soon as my graduate program began that year, my sole elective jazz history. Kurt Cobain repurposed John Lennon (Imagine, downloaded) and received three stars. Eddie Vedder bellowed Jim Morrison (all six Doors LPs in four years, done) but rated lower. Neither held a candle to Public Enemy.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Louis Armstrong begot Muddy Waters became Ice Cube. There's your Charlie Darwin. Lennon + Lydon = Cobain, replace the license plate game! Where the Clash kicked down my front door a decade earlier, Public Enemy's home invasion wasn't just an Ice-T title. Don Pullen's Sacred Common Ground bore sharing, but mine was PE's Yo! Bum Rush the Show (1987), It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988), Fear of a Black Planet (1990), and Apocalypse 91 ... the Enemy Strikes Black back to back to black. That's the Rolling Stones sneezing off Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St all in a row through the same bloody nostril.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

So fell an avalanche of Stones, but like 1990s indie rockers Eve's Plum, I wanted it all. No Thin Lizzy primer for me, mate – Jailbreak, Live and Dangerous, Dedication: The Very Best of Thin Lizzy. Box set, bootlegs, and blasted Gary Moore (Corridors of Power, Run for Cover, Wild Frontier), thanks. Ice-T, pour it: Rhyme Pays, Power, The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech ... Just Watch What You Say, and Body Count, at the Back Room, Riverside Drive, Jan. 2, 1993! Unopened Ice Cube reissues: Amerikkka's Most Wanted (1990), Death Certificate (1991), The Predator (1992), and Lethal Injection (1993). N.W.A, Nas. Bun(ny) B. All Wu-Tang. Mary J. Blige, sucka.

He said/she said, "Jane you ignorant slut," this wasn't, however. No ma'am.

Her "Podmina" would always be Adam, my future player designed and built from its ribs: Allman Brothers, Cream, Dylan, Hendrix, Elton John, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Moby Grape (oh yeah), Pink Floyd, Queen, Ramones, Springsteen, the Who, Yardbirds, ZZ Top. Reprocessing the lot on my iTunes would torch my psyche's meth lab.

"You don't want Nirvana – In Utero?" I asked.

Guatemala's grateful former houseguest wanted Café Tacuba. Hablas Argentina's Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, "El Matador," Grosse Point Blank? Cuban sandwich: Buena Vista Social Club. Brazil's Sinatra (Caetano Veloso), Beatles (Os Mutantes), and electro-jungle sorcerer Suba wrestling Monterrey, Mexico's mutant beatbox traditionalists El Gran Silencio. Mano Negra/Manu Chao (soccer punk) matching up against acoustic brujos Rodrigo y Gabriela (metal gypsy kings). Shakira gets the missus caliente. Julieta Venegas, Ely Guerra, Olga Tañon got me outnumbered. Celia Cruz now; Susana Baca, Cesaria Evora, Virginia Rodrigues later. Los Lobos.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Where she preferred Mexican Institute of Sound (Soy Sauce), he stayed home at Charanga Cakewalk. Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come deluxe edition soundtrack and Melodians hits ("Rivers of Babylon") float her vessel, but Eddy "Electric Avenue" Grant (Barefoot Solider) rocks his boat. Haitian juju for him: Boukman Eksperyans (Revolutíon). Cantina Latina for her: Lila Downs. Harry Belafonte's greatest hits mingle easily among Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers' Conscious Party. Togetherness.

Malian guitar scion Vieux Farka Touré's new Fondo finally drew castles made of sand.

"Might take some getting used to," she shrugged.

Not necessarily. An Espresso portable hard drive hauling 500 gigabytes runs $90 at Fry's. Though my iTunes had buckled at Japanese monster act Boris, I hadn't begun downloading for myself, not in earnest. I wasn't finished erecting Machu Picchu. Girlfriend spent that July Fourth Saturday afternoon troubleshooting the eminent domain of my iTunes onto the external hard drive. I spun local singles (white vinyl Followed by Static) for review. Only one thing troubled me.

I'd blown my entire iPod fund on a lamp.


'Slave to the Grind'

Keith Richards' mortal phobia notwithstanding (sniff out "What Would Keith Richards Do?," Earache! music blog, austinchronicle.com/earache, July 17), cheese bows to no man: Jarlsberg, jalapeño loaf, you name it. Queso's king.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Skid Row's self-titled Atlantic debut from 1989 might have at first appeared a girlie demand given my metal dungeon, but its nepotism did in fact come from a metal chick. How intoxicated were we exactly when "18 and Life" hit 11? The Jersey quintet's 1991 follow-up, Slave to the Grind, made the iDrop as my contribution to the cause. Dokken succeeded Sebastian Bach on that quasi-debauched Valentine's Day months earlier, Tell the World: The Very Best of Ratt its chaser. The morning after found me gratefully sans fishnets.

Commensurate with her age, Mrs. Bach got the big guns, crème de la canons, 21-gun salute: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath (Dio, yo), Def Leppard (High 'n' Dry), Iron Maiden, Metallica, Rush, Scorpions, Van Halen.

Me? Metal, A-Z: Absu, Behemoth, Cul de Sac/Damo Suzuki (Abhayamudra), The Datsuns (2002), Exodus, Faster Pussycat ("Where There's a Whip There's a Way"), Graveyard, the Hellacopters, Isis, Judas Priest, Kiss, Lamb of God, Mastodon, Neurosis, Opeth, Pride Tiger (Lizzy doppelgänger, The Lucky Ones, 2007), Queensrÿche, Rage Against the Machine, Sepultura, 1349, UFO, Vain, Whitesnake, Extreme, Y&T (Earthshaker, Black Tiger), Zeke.

Metallurgical analysis revealed this a sound spectrum; Big Business and the Melvins leverage more 1970s than Montrose. Cheese-cutting was kept silent and undeadly.

Problem was UFO: Phenomenon, Force It, No Heavy Petting, Lights Out, Obsession, 1974-1978, never forgetting live touchdown Strangers in the Night, pre-reissue. Michael Schenker, who helped co-found the Scorpions with his older brother Rudolph and elfin vocal hurricane Klaus Meine on 1972's post-Can Krautrock klassic Lonesome Crow, coils übermelodies inside incinerating shred, but UFO vox Phil Mogg sounds just plain gay. Rainbow, Rush – the decades toll. Slayer's Reign in Blood killed the dinosaurs, even if Thin Lizzy tours almost a quarter-century after sainted Phil Lynott gave up the ghost. Oh, right, Japanrocksampler: Boris, Flower Travellin' Band, Ghost, Solar Anus, Stars, White Heaven, and any group or individual who's so much as read the words Michio Kurihara.

I was fighting a war on two fronts – two Argentine tango scrappers, two iTunes – and getting massacred. Spoon was three-peating Stubb's, and yours truly was getting stingy with all-time surf titans the Mermen, San Francisco's desert island savants amplifying Neptune's own Sonic Youth cover band. Instrumentalists Kinski, Red Sparowes, and Earthless couldn't cool the magma. Neither did Link Wray, Sandy Bull, and Santo & Johnny. "Sleep Walk," I wish.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Overseas call from Düsseldorf, work all the Rainbow and Rush. Done? Smelt more metal inversion, jazz: Komodo trumpet dragon Tiger Okoshi's 1990s triptych, Echoes of a Note, Two Sides to Every Story, Color of Soil; Ornette Coleman's old pals in Old & New Dreams; Ginger Baker Trio's brain surgeons, Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden. Stir in Middle Eastern mind melt: Ghazal, The Rain, ECM, 2003. The Rain to liquefy sand.

"Do you have any Nat King Cole?"

Hers boiled down to maintenance now, 10,000 iTunes crippling her laptop. Farewell Fairport Convention Live at the BBC. Cheesy morsels aside (Axe, Aldo Nova, Krokus), I'd turned the corner from metal to indie. Why hadn't the second disc of Blur Live at the Budokan registered? iTunes listed the songs, but they weren't on the external hard drive. The repair person couldn't help.

We'd broken up.


'You Coulda Walked Around the World'

Smokey Robinson leaned across the huge round dinner table sitting only the three of us and winked at Beatrice, cracking a line straight out of Ice Cube's scowl in Friday. We'll laugh in disbelief about it again someday.

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Said navigator got us to the mid-July Fort Worth date by iPhone, but her iPod drove. The chicken-salad sandwich at Roy T's Old Salado Bakery induced her instant nap, but not before she set Podmina on shuffle beginning at Santana's 1977 stab at Mr. Buddy Holly's "Well All Right." Springsteen's "Working on a Dream" and Rush's "Anthem" sandwiched Ella Fitzgerald. Set to snooze, she had Richard Pryor swear me to tears all the way back to Austin.

Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 and its decades of labor at the onset of August broke our desert island camel's back, so house-sitting in the Bay Area for two weeks directly afterward became oasis. Instead of an iPod, I had a cassette player in my mom's car. The Hooters' parallel "T.S.O.P." tape, Zig Zag, tag-teamed Body Count's unfairly aborted Born Dead on loop. My laser-disc player still spins and scans enormous silver movie discs, too.

No Housemartins careening The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death off my nonexistent Skullcandy earbuds. No Hovercraft experimenting with Altered States' cinematic sensory deprivation on Akathisia. No Johnny Hodges' alto sax admitting he Used to Be Duke. Combing out the life's work of jazz's cat in the hat, Abbey Lincoln (You Gotta Pay the Band, Where There Is Love), and sifting through Ali Farka Toure (Niafunké) constituted a waste of time on par with brushing one's teeth.

Children of divorce: I'd managed to store the Flatlanders' Hills and Valleys, buttressed by solo Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely, but Porthos – Butch Hancock – had escaped digital conversion before the Okkervil River-like totalitarianism I'd had in mind: The Wind's Dominion, West Texas Waltzes & Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes, You Coulda Walked Around the World, and Own & Own. And no Butch meant not only no Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, or Townes Van Zandt, but also no Doug Sahm, Santiago Jimenez, Lydia Mendoza, and the Sword. My iTunes wouldn't read Lions of Tsavo.

I'd had the presence of mind to digitize the 13th Floor Elevators' Easter Everywhere as well as all Explosions in the Sky (and the equally suite Haydn, Mozart, and Vivaldi), but what of Butthole Surfers, Cherubs, Poison 13? Bupkiss. The Essential Willie Nelson, extraordinary save. Unfathomable loss: beloved Alejandro Escovedo. The ex got Al.

Some day, my rectified iTunes will be awarded a generous iPod grant from my new, Labor Day-begun home air conditioner replacement fund, and up will pop Duke Ellington's 1957 prayer, Indigos, the only album I'd ever need on Gilligan's Island.

Meantime, I wonder if that lamp knows any Tommy Tutone.


Desert Island Discs 2009

I Built My Girlfriend's iPod

Updated from "Desert Island Top 10," Jan. 7, 2000

1) Duke Ellington

Indigos (Columbia), 1957

2) The Rolling Stones

Sticky Fingers (Atlantic), 1971

3) Billie Holiday

The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Volume 4 (1937) (Columbia), 1988

4) Bob Marley & the Wailers

Uprising (Island), 1980

5) Martha Reeves & the Vandellas

Heat Wave (Motown), 1963

6) Thin Lizzy

Renegade (Warner Bros.), 1981

7) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

Live/1975-85 (Columbia), 1986

8) The Stooges

1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions (Rhino Handmade), 2000

9) Alejandro Escovedo

Real Animal (Back Porch), 2008

10) Mermen

Food for Other Fish (Kelptone), 1994

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