I didn’t want an iPod.
There, I’ve said it. It must have been my perverse snobbery, my badly-concealed elitism. I made fun of the millions of people who had little white earbud phones in their ears and (for the most part) dreamy vapid expressions. I’d see them on the subway, where the clamor coming through those earbuds was audible over the roar of the C train. Did I fear that if I bought an iPod my musical tastes would become like theirs? I don’t know.
I kept doing this even when Kevin Dorn, my spiritual guide in many things, said, mildly, that he had the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session on his iPod and could thus listen to “Prince of Wails” whenever he liked. Even that failed to move me. Now I am not an unregenerate Luddite: I am addicted to email, and would rather hear 1929 Ellington on CD than on a V- Victor. But still I resisted.
However, I can’t be separated from the music I love for any length of time. I’ve brought compact discs to Ireland, to Germany, to Mexico, to Sicily. Take me away from my jazz library and I start fidgeting because I can’t hear Teddy Bunn sing and play “Blues Without Words.” So when the Beloved and I went away this summer, the physical manifestation of this urge was a heavy shopping bag of discs in the back of the car. Did I play them all? Of course not. It was exceedingly comforting to know that they were there, but I knew that this was not a good solution to the anticipated deprivation. (It was the aesthetic equivalent of having five dozen cans of black beans in the kitchen cabinets so that you will never run out.)
At some point, I began, reluctantly and grudgingly, to think about an iPod. Even when the Beloved insisted on buying it for me as a premature-birthday present, I was still worried, even suspicious. Part of the dread was, of course, provoked by the mythology that Apple and other firms have created, making a simple purchase seem unfathomable, mystical. I stared at the online displays, feeling overwhelmed and ignorant. Did I want a New Generation iPod, a Classic, a Nano? Finally, I gave in and asked the people who know these things by heart — my sweet-natured students, for whom Technology is a first language. To their credit, even if it seemed to them that Grandpa was asking about which skateboard to buy, they didn’t snicker but entered eagerly into the game of Teaching Their Professor. Emboldened, I bought a black Classic and plunged headfirst into the world of iTunes, and syncing.
The result? Had you seen me on the Long Island Rail Road last night, sleepy and disarranged, with a dreamy vapid look on my face, you might have noticed the white earbuds nearly falling out of my ears (they fit poorly). But I was twenty feet underwater in my own version of bliss: Mildred Bailey singing “Little High Chairman,” a Buck Clayton Jam Session, Louis playing “Muggles.” Is there a moral? I doubt it. But pick your own cliche: 1) You can teach an old dog new tricks, or 2) Better late than never, if late isn’t too late.