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The Dangerous Beauty of iTunes


Press shuffle in iTunes and something you haven't listened to in ages pops up and suddenly you lose seven years and approximately ninety-three personal growth lessons and you feel the way you did when you were listening to this song alone in your room after your first major breakup. Wow. That was weird.

They (the great and mysterious they) say smell is the sense most evocative of past memories, but I don't think I believe them. These also tend to be the people who tell me I need a job and a wardrobe that doesn't consist mainly of jeans and unicorn t-shirts. If I smell snickerdoodles baking, I think "Gee, I like cookies." But if I hear a certain song, I get sucked into a time warp that could dump me down in any point in my sentient life - any place, year, or emotional state. Music is the great chronological equalizer.

If I hear Black-Eyed Dog by Nick Drake, suddenly I'm sitting on a Manhattan bus in 1999.

If I hear Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, I'm standing in the marble lobby of the Flood Building in 2005. I called the boy I was seeing because I'd just run into an ex and I was shaken. He showed up with a hug and the Flaming Lips CD he burned for me.

Blue-eyed Devil by Soul Coughing and I'm sitting in that ex's car with the dog in my lap as we drive up the coast to Stinson Beach.

Digital Love by Daft Punk and I'm watching Italian MTV with my friends in our apartment in Florence in 2001. The washing machine is whirling with the laundry from our trip to Venice and we're eating eggplant parmigiana and trying to decipher the commercials with our rudimentary Italian.

Footloose by Kenny Loggins and I'm in a neighbor's kitchen in 1988, dancing across the mustard linoleum as three boys argue over the right shape for chocolate chip cookie dough on baking sheets.

This shit's specific, yo.

It's like an electric portal to long-forgotten feelings that hit you out of absolutely nowhere because the shuffle algorithm in iTunes sent a random selection up through your headphones and into your brain.

I think most people have a deep visceral response to music. When I was a kid, I would watch TV with my little tape recorder poised, so that when the commercial with my favorite song would come on, I could press record and play it back in my bedroom. I couldn't make music - the piano never fired me up, five years of lessons notwithstanding - so I learned to dance to it instead. My yen to move started early, apparently. Kindergarten teachers told tales of how I would dance around the classroom, probably knocking into other students and generally making a nuisance of myself. My favorite evening activity is still sticking my iPod in my pocket and dancing in the house by myself as the dog watches, confused.

And those memories, man. Three bars into a song and it's like visiting myself five, ten, twenty years in the past. Strange as it is to find myself briefly in those long-lost feelings and that long-lost self, I kind of like it. Because I can tell that girl, "Hey. It's okay. You'll get through this. Hard things will happen to you, but amazing things will happen too. Just keep listening."