Tonight I am a rock star … or maybe I’m even more of a nobody than I was before. It all depends on how you interpret the message iTunes is sending me.
A little while ago, my old desktop computer bit the dust after close to 10 years of service. So I broke down and bought a new one. I could have paid somebody to revive the old one (again), but sometimes you gotta take the leap forward.
I downloaded iTunes as one of my first steps. I assume this is a brighter, shinier, smarter version of iTunes than I’d been using; it certainly looks that way.
Then I uploaded a home-burned CD of music originally recorded to cassette by my high-school basement band, Fried Pig. I was worried the CD might have gone bad (it’s been quite a few years since I made it) and I wanted to get the tracks saved in another place, just in case.
The upshot of the story is: iTunes ran my high-school musical output through its inscrutable spectral analysis … compared it to its bottomless library of existing tunes … and assigned several of the songs to other bands. Labeled ’em and sorted ’em into folders and everything.
Fried Pig in the “studio,” 1991. Or maybe we were somebody else and didn’t know it.
If my music were going to be confused and mislabeled as somebody else’s, I was hoping for Astral Weeks, or at least KISS Alive II. However, iTunes’ conclusions were just a little bit … different.
A moody, suspenseful semi-instrumental called “Reimbursement II,” for instance, apparently belongs on the Flaming Lips‘ The Soft Bulletin album. I guess that’s all right; they’re pretty freaky.
A Kafkaesque, vaguely Latin jam called “Nostril” (about a man who wakes up one morning minus the titular body part) got assigned to something called Sabu’s Jazz Espagnole, by Sabu Martinez. I’d never associated Fried Pig with the conguero who replaced Chano Pozo in Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra, but I think that’s a connection I could probably live with.
Somebody called The Wytches got credit for a 30-second bass-drums-and-vocals hoedown called “Polka Time.” Maybe they deserve it, maybe they don’t … but that’s not a chune I’d go to the mat for.
No, the oddest cut is the last. Three songs from Parti Klub, Fried Pig’s farewell tour de force, got assigned to She Wants Revenge.
I’d never heard of them — though, me being a suburban dad, that doesn’t mean much. Apparently they’re a gothic/post-punk/alternative band from the El Lay sprawl who put out three records and toured with Depeche Mode.
(iTunes sorted Fried Pig’s songs “Squash,” “Baby’s Got A Gobstopper” and a cover of “Horse With No Name” onto the group’s self-titled debut album.)
These particular songs had been part of our most artistically successful and fondly remembered “album,” so it felt galling at first to see them assigned to another band. It seemed as if iTunes was accusing us of copying a band we’d predated by close to 20 years.
On a broader scale, it seemed like a glimpse of some chaotic future where computers rule everything and know nothing … a world where artificial intelligence surveys all of humankind’s creations and gives not a damn.
After more thought, though, I’d rather be in our shoes than theirs.
Think about it: No band gets a record contract without years of grinding. It starts at high school talent shows, and continues all the way up to that cherished headline slot at the Roxy or the Whiskey or wherever.
The guys in She Wants Revenge probably worked their kapushtas off getting that record deal — hours in a van, dozens of demo tapes in the mail, mugs of ketchup soup for dinner, the whole nine yards.
When they went into the studio to cut that first album, they probably plowed their collective blood, sweat and dreams into it, hoping it would make them stars while also serving as a worthy statement of purpose.
And after all that, a computer still couldn’t tell them apart from a quintet of teenage nimrods jacking around in a basement in Rochester, New York.
Were I them, I might seek out their old producer and ask for their money back.
But I am not them. Instead, I am sitting in a different basement, years and miles away, reflecting on a basic truth:
Music is a cruel mistress, to all who court her.
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A little multimedia content for your entertainment. I assembled this many years ago while teaching myself Windows MovieMaker. Scoff *this*, Flaming Lips.