Christmas of the Pod People

What are those little white boxes with wires telling us to do?

Four million people will find iPods under their Christmas trees Saturday. What does that mean?

It means that four million people will open four million little square packages, get a load of the evil corporate Apple and iPod logos, throw their arms around the givers, say it's just what they wanted, and the givers will say they've had it for a couple of weeks now and Check out the playlist I made for you.

It means that four million people will regard said playlists and see lovingly downloaded and/or ripped songs by Usher, Patty Griffin, Valet, Richmond Fontaine, Martin DeVaney, the Hold Steady, or Eleni Mandell, and partake in the intimate rush that is unique to the DJ-listener relationship. It means that four million people will tolerate Christmas dinner, Aunt Polly talking about religion or Uncle Dingbat talking about politics, and then escape--that's right, escape, and blissfully so--to a world where a slide guitar, aching vocal, or great beat makes more sense than red vs. blue or Jesus vs. Allah.

What it doesn't mean is that four million people will chuck their tapes or CDs. Nor does it mean they will stop ingesting full-length albums, or stop listening to the radio, or stop reading Uncut, Pitchfork, or MOJO, or stop going to live shows, or stop frequenting indie record stores like Roadrunner, Treehouse, or Let It Be. Instead, they will discover their music appetites newly whetted, and find an analogy to what sexpert Susie Bright said to me about virtual sex 11 years ago:

 

Incorporating technology into people's sex lives may seem strange at first, but once you pick up the phone and dial, or get on e-mail or whatever, once you plug it in, it's a very intuitive, physical process. It doesn't have anything to do with communication with a machine. I was onThe Joan Rivers Show, and that was her problem. She's like, "My God, we're going to stay home, hooked up to a helmet in some sort of addictive frenzy and not have any need for personal communication anymore." That's like saying, "What if the music on a record player ruins [live] music?"

 

Meow. The "record player" is now the size of an Altoids box, and what that means is that come Saturday, four million free spirits who very likely don't own a turntable will ignore the puritans who would dismiss the iPod as trendy or tinny. They will hit "shuffle," wait for the universe to play mix-tape master, and allow their inner Greil Marcuses to suss out the secret link between Neko Case's rave-up of the old spiritual "This Little Light of Mine (I'm Gonna Let It Shine)," Hilary Duff's "Haters," and the Midnight Evils' "Go, Motherfucker, Go."

It means that four million people will be ecstatically inundated with mixed messages and force themselves to ruminate on the vagaries between "I love you," "I want you," and "I just wanna hold you," as bled by various artists who've never met, but who now talk to each other in heaven's head shop.

It means that four million people will be listening to the soundtrack of whatever they call their lives at the moment. And while the outside world may look askance, labeling them zombies or head-in-the-sanders, they will be buoyed by the knowledge that millions of others are practicing the same secret meditation, digging ever deeper in their quest to find themselves through a ritual that inspired Aldous Huxley to say, "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."

It means that in some of the four million homes, the iPod discussion will eventually turn to the gadget's most visible commercial proponent, U2, and for a moment, the memory of a year marked by an awful war and a soul-sucking election will be eclipsed by Bono singing, "The TV is still on/But the sound is turned down/And the troops on the ground/Are about to dig in/And I wonder/Where is the love?"

It means that four million people will go to iTunes and drink in the celebrity playlists. They will see what Le Tigre or Minnie Driver are listening to, discover that Kanye West digs the White Stripes and Coldplay, read how Helmet's Page Hamilton thinks Elvis Costello is a genius, and how Costello's essential song of the moment is something from 1917 called "They Are There," the chorus of which goes, "Then let all the people rise/And stand together in brave, kind humanity/Most wars are made by small stupid selfish losing groups/While the people have no say."

It means that four million people can read actor Edward Norton gushing about New York songwriter Peter Salett and indie-mood rockers the King of France, admitting: "When I was a kid I always felt a little behind the curve with pop music. I never caught the Police at the 9:30 club on their first tour, I caught on to the Pixies when they were already almost done. I never had those 'I saw them in a little club' stories to brag on. But now I have the King of France. Someday I will say, 'I saw them in the beginning,' and feel very cool."

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