How a music critic became iRashod


August 24, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

I was tired of my friends ragging me about it. And to tell the truth, I was beginning to feel hopelessly "not-with-it." Until a month ago, it seems I was the last sucker on Earth -- and a music critic, no less -- who didn't own an iPod. Looking me in the eye with the earnestness of a doctor who's about to deliver a grave prognosis, my homegirl Tanika told me last December: "Rashod, with all the music you have, you really need to get one."

So I have finally joined the new digital music revolution: I own an iPod Nano. Now I'm wondering how in the world did I live so long without one of these things. For the longest time, I strolled around with my CD Walkman and my "Bag o' Funk," a black canvas backpack bulging with my favorite discs. Once, while walking into the office one morning, the zipper broke, and all of my CDs crashed onto the floor. I felt like such a loser. It was reminiscent of my awful first day of seventh grade when my backpack broke and all of my supplies -- pens, pencils, calculator, notebooks -- spilled out as I climbed onto the school bus.

Now with my iPod Nano -- which holds 1,000 songs and at 1.5 cubic inches is about the size of a credit card -- I don't carry around my heavy Bag o' Funk anymore. I've downloaded nearly 700 songs from my large private collection. And seemingly overnight, the iPod has changed the way I listen to these cuts, even beloved songs I've played countless times before.

For some reason, shuffling hundreds of tunes for hours thrills me. But it also scares me: Now I can't seem to listen to a song, even a 2 1/2 -minute ditty, all the way through.

Has the iPod zapped away what little attention span I had left? And since I have literally spent hours at home on the weekend with this thing -- refusing to answer the phone or even go out to get gas, milk or bread -- is this pencil-thin device slowly turning me into a gadget-crazed recluse?

I'm certainly not the only one changed by this streamlined contraption. Last year, Apple Computer, which introduced the iPod in 2001, sold 5.31 million players, up 558 percent from the previous year. Spurred by the iPod revolution, digital music sales last year totaled $790 million, up 175 percent from the previous year, while CD sales plummeted 7 percent.

And that number may continue to grow. It was a telling moment in July when Johnny Cash topped Billboard's pop album charts with the posthumously released American V: A Hundred Highways, which sold a mere 88,000 during its first week in stores. That was the fewest copies of a No. 1 debut sold since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking such data in 1991.

With hundreds of CDs taking over my cramped one-bedroom apartment, you'd think downloading music from iTunes would appeal to me. But I haven't completely warmed up to the idea of buying individual songs from a site. Yet.

"Rashod, get with it," my girl Kayce, an avid iTunes shopper, tells me. I buy so much other stuff via the computer -- from facial creams to airline tickets. But when it comes to my music, I still prefer a physical product.

I grew up going to the record store on the weekends, and I still like the idea of new music in my hands. I still like cracking open a new CD (or two or three or six) and actually sniffing the fresh-paper smell of the booklet inside. (Uh-huh, I know it's weird. So what?) But now I can download only the songs I want and put them on the iPod, which I can slip into my pocket, and keep it moving. I don't have to worry about the music skipping or stopping to change the CD.

The convenience, the sleekness I love. But I hope I return to actually savoring a song. The bulk of the music on my iPod is classic soul, rock and funk that I generally prefer over much of the sometimes-infectious but ultimately migraine-inducing hits that make iTunes' Top 10 list every week. (Fergie's "London Bridge," anyone?) I know I've been changed when I shuffle through Minnie Riperton's "Inside My Love," one of my all-time favorite songs and one of the first I downloaded onto my brand spanking new iPod. I'm never not in the mood to hear that joint. But when it pops on my player, I find myself shuffling just to see what's next. Oh, Betty Davis' "Walkin' Up the Road." One minute into that overlooked slice of '70s rock-funk heaven, I shuffle: the Roots' "The Next Movement." Yo, that's my jam! Two beats in, I shuffle again: Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf." Cool. And I keep on shuffling for hours on end.

This, Kayce tells me, is just the honeymoon phase. I'm giddy about my new toy, and all the excitement will fade soon enough, she says. But will it?

Probably much sooner than later, I'm going to get on iTunes and start buying songs one by one. I'll go everywhere with my iPod on, lost in my wondrous world of tailor-made playlists, just like everybody else. And I thought I'd never be like everybody else.

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