In a lot of ways, my digital music player history mirrors my sexual history – I’ve have always been two bases behind my peers. While the world cranked up tunes on their iPods hoping to drown out the sounds of reaching third base in 4th floor stairways after school, I was sat alone on the bus wondering why my Sony CD player wouldn’t work when I needed my daily fix of my favorite album at the time, Michelle Branch’s Hotel Paper. But just because it took me a little longer to round the bases doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy each base as they came.
1. Random USB Driver
I purchased my first MP3 player the day after Thanksgiving. My parents, devout Christians who openly hated my foray into secular music, probably thought I was going through I was going to Pathmark to buy Pineapple soda. Not true. I went next door from the Pathmark to Radioshack and bought my first MP3 player. I’m sure it had a name but even if it did, it isn’t worth mentioning. A product number or something more suited for a droid upon the Millenium Falcon. It looked and worked like a thumbdrive, connecting straight to my computer and the archive of my CDs, Windows Media Player. Because I’d nothing to compare it with besides my clunky CD player, I loved it. Like a first kiss, it did just enough to excite me to the musically possibilities of what lay ahead. It worked a lot like an iPod shuffle.
The iRiver is misnamed. iWinner. iAwesome. As much as I hated saying the name “I-River”, I was super into it. While my friends flashed their iPod minis during free periods, I sat with my iRiver convinced it was the world’s best kept secret in digital music technology. It was amazing. My 20GB was grey, had an FM radio transmitter, recorded from the radio, featured its own harddrive that could transfer songs from one computer to another. Every morning on the Q111 to school, I’d record Z100 Phone Taps and replay them to my gleeful heart’s content.
It was so the perfect piece of equipment for me at 15, awesome for reasons no one could initially notice. The only way to understand my enduring love for the iRiver is that it is the first girlfriend. With time and experience, everything about it seems more and more glamorous. I clamour for its touch. If I could live my life as a doubles hitter I would and take my iRiver over and over.
For a few months, Microsoft could count on the hipster vote in the election of digital music supremacy. It was different. It was for “real” music fans. It’s hard to believe now but while Coldplay was making iTunes commercials, the Zune had a weird counterculture element that appealed to people like me. Weirdly, it is the only MP3 player that didn’t register any lasting memories. I remember the Zune for two reasons: it looked good. It had a poker game on it. I lost it on the subway. I clearly didn’t like it enough to get it again. The problem with the Zune is that it didn’t hold enough songs. At this point, I bought my CDs. If I had been a singles guy, I could have handled its 8 GBs. But I needed more space. At all times, I needed every album by Snow Patrol and Coldplay. I had a lot of feelings. I needed a lot of songs.
4. Creative Zen
The coolest person in my high school was named Paula. If you interviewed the 600 or so students who attended my high school, 599 of them would not say that Paula was the coolest student in high school. I knew better. While the rest of the school was listening to Maroon 5, she was listening to the Shins and Death Cab. She’s the one who told me about Sylvia Plath. She was from Ridgewood, which isn’t necessarily Queens but kind of like Brooklyn in that it was out of the way. Which was different. She was Polish, which may or may not have contributed to her seemingly cold attitude toward everything.
Why do these random facts matter? Paula had a Creative Zen. I thought Paula was cool as shit. So I bought one too. Of course, I loved Maroon 5. And I listened to Maroon 5 on it. But at least I could do so in a way that felt.
5. iPod Classic
When I arrived college, the world of the iPod was just reaching explosive levels. I remember seeing my first iPhone and thinking, “Look at these privileged phonies”. I, too, though was sporting a new Apple. New, that is, for me. I bought it from eBay. It was white and a brick and weirdly enough a conversation starter. I carried a relic that was 20GBs. It was the perfect college accessory. If there’s ever a time to own being different, it’s in college. I was one of the freaks who spent their Saturday nights at the radio station playing bands I’d only just heard. Even when I tried to fit in, I still had to be different. Which is wack but I was just learning at Weezer. It fit.
6. Insignia Pilot
My college girlfriend was super generous. Sorrowful at seeing her penniless, musicless lover on those long walks too and from her dorm, she bought me the most interesting music contraption, an Insignia. It was horizontal and worked with a large rotating wheel like Bob Barker’s from the Prince is Right. It was full of features I genuinely had no interest in using. Bluetooth? Video? Images? In a lot of ways, it was like a girlfriend, full of wonderful qualities I at 20 couldn’t adequately appreciate. I just wanted to get down to the music. Can you blame me?
5. iPod Touch
I have the most amazing cell phone plan in the world. For reasons I won’t discuss further for fear that it becomes less amazing when people decide to leave the tyranny of 100 dollar cell phone plans and embrace the freedom that comes with being an iOS Virgin. But that doesn’t mean I ultimately didn’t want to join the cool kids and munch on an Apple. I bought an iPod Touch for two reasons. I needed a new MP3 player. Two, as an aspiring progressive, I felt compelled to take pictures of Occupy Wall Streets protestors. I figured I’d kill two birds and succumb to Steve Job’s and his wizardly skill at design.
Two problems. The camera on the iPod Touch is pretty awful. Reintroducing myself to iTunes was like a girlfriend who constantly wanted more. “No, I will not update you…no, really, I will not update you.” The Touch, of course, worked. It’s designed to work. But sometimes the most beautiful woman in your life doesn’t make her the woman you want.
7. HTC One
I’m now 24 and, with the skill and grace of Chris Christie at a celebrity softball game, I have finally waddled my way into Home Plate. I’ve uninstalled iTunes. I’ve severed my life from Windows Media Player. I can sit back at the dugout and swap stories with my teammates about how much well I know how to play the game.
I pay for Spotify Premium and use my amazing secret cell phone’s plan’s free data to enjoy any song I want. Aside from the “Me too!” feeling that comes from meeting another Spotify Premium user, it’s a fairly soulless experience. Spotify just gives it up. Whatever I want, whenever I want. It’s giving me too much power. My digital music experience was supposed to be stressful. But it isn’t. It’s everything I should want it to be. I’m old enough to be comfortable with that.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish there were times when I could still wack my frantically spinning iPod Classic to get it from having a sort of Digital Seizure. I miss shutting off my Maroon 5 every morning at 7:20 to listen to my favorite radio DJs punk a Chinese restaurant in Bayone. I miss negotiating which albums would be removed when my GB space got all full. Alanis over Dido? The Fray over Maroon 5? Deciding which albums were never to be touched. Having the realization that some albums that I thought would be untouchable finally had to make way for a newer album. I couldn’t listen to Hotel Paper forever. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter.