Playlist two: Fun follows function

Shallow Dave? Shallow? I expect you to eat that rather odd Cossack hat you favour, and a huge slice of humble pie. I'm glad I shot your dog. It wasn't an accident. You know where I live.

Call me shallow. Dangerous Dave does. Apparently, I favour style over substance. And, he's right. My review of the Stone Roses gig is 1,800 words long: 300 of them discuss my apparel – I won’t reveal specifics, you’ll have to read it, (it's here and by God does he go ON about his kit - ed) but Beau Brummel would’ve swooned – while ten concern the band.

I implore you to ignore him. An ardent audiophile, his views are perverse, out of step with modern society. When he buys a portable music player his priority is sound reproduction. He’s never forgiven me for buying a Sony WM10* rather than WM-DC2, which was slightly larger and certainly less attractive, but had far superior audio. The situation wasn’t alleviated by my insistence on listening to his whenever possible. Not because the music emanating from his earphones was so sublime it rivalled the movement of the spheres, but when you pressed play it tended to. Mine didn’t, but boy she sure looked pretty. This isn’t the only reason he’s angry. Breaking the Koetsu Black on his Zeta tone arm certainly played a part. As did the numerous CDs I stole. And the thing with Tuco didn’t help. But he knew I’d been drinking for eight hours when he passed me the crossbow. Humour is subjective. Dave, like General Patton, time moves in only one direction: forward. There’s a very real deadline approaching, so let’s bury the hatchet amigo. I’ve said sorry. I currently have ten openings for best friend available, and one of them has your name on it.

My iPod is an object of rare beauty, yet, despite Dave’s accusations, this is not why I bought it. Its functionality played a part. If it wasn’t portable, I wouldn’t have purchased it. Years of concerts and earphones** cranked up to 11 have taken their toll, but even I can tell the CD is acoustically superior to even the best MP3 player***.

Being able to listen to your music on the go is nothing new. For the last 30 years, I’ve rarely left home without dangerously loud music blasting my eardrums (which may explain why I get run over so often, people cross the street to avoid me, and the ceaseless ringing). What really sets the iPod apart is the simplicity of making compilations.

Prior to the playlist if you wanted to create a mobile, musical miscellany you recorded a cassette. A process which involved spend hours genuflecting in front of your hi-fi, surrounded by empty coffee cups, crushed cans, discarded sweet wrappers and crisp packets, overflowing ashtrays, mouldy takeaways and half-eaten Pot Noodles. Now you just sit at your computer, surrounded by empty coffee cups, crushed cans, discarded sweet wrappers and crisp packets, overflowing ashtrays, mouldy takeaways and half-eaten Pot Noodles.

On the whole it has been a positive revolution. Easy to do, but instantly forgettable. The last playlist I made, ‘I’d Wreck that Chick’ – a paean to Brian Griffin’s love for Lois, and another allusion to my sexual prowess intended to distract attention from my rapidly waning libido – simply involved me endlessly scrolling through my iTunes, dragging and dropping. I didn’t even have to listen to the songs.

They are just names, disassociated from their content. Unlike a boat full of special forces sailing to Utøya island, space is not at a premium on a playlist. You’re not forced to choose what to include. There’s no need to agonise over what to omit. Every song you own will fit. I wasn’t engaged in the process. It was mechanical, repetitive, joyless, like sex with the office bike. A musical production line. Select. Drag. Drop. Select. Drag. Drop. Click. Click. Click. Ad fucking infinitum.

The monotony got to me. I started drifting off. Wondering whether Mario, in his darkest moments, ever thought there was anything going on between Bowser and Princess Peach. Was she letting herself be kidnapped to see how much he really loved her? To discover if he was willing to risk his neck to save her skin? Was she just making him jump over Koopas for her amusement? Hoops were one thing, but those turtles were vicious. Maybe she hadn’t been kidnapped after all? Sorry, where was I…

Long before I reached the end of my library, I gave up. Not because of the overwhelming fear I was developing RSI. I simply began to question what I was doing? What I would achieve?

Compared to an audio tape, something disappointingly nebulous. An amorphous selection of tracks moved from one virtual place to another. But this wasn’t about corporeality, the ethereal MP3 versus the substantial cassette. They both store digital data. With a tape you chose the order the tracks would be played. Defined it. Whenever it was played it would be the same. It was your creation, and when it was finished you could see that it was good.

I can still remember the majority of the tracks I included on the cassette Halo Jones’ Zenade Party, and, although I remember the names (‘Sex Fuhrer’, ‘Driving my Nuts’, ‘Miller Time’****), the tunes I featured on an individual playlist evade me. I suppose this is because labelling is the only imaginative input. You create a mix tape; assemble a playlist.

These are not problems inherent in the technology. To produce a playlist that meets my impossibly high standards, I simply have to marry the restrictions of the tape with the iPod’s ease of use. I can set a 45-minute time limit. Listen to each song in turn to ensure that the juxtapositions are challenging enough without being jarring. Use an alphanumerical prefix to ensure they are played in the right order***. The tapes I made were not better because of the medium’s limitations, it was because they forced me to think: great problems require great solutions.

There was one unforeseen benefit of manufacturing ‘I’d Wreck that Chick’. It precipitated an epiphany. Like Paul on the road to Damascus I saw the light, although in my case it was a less dusty experience as I was sitting in my office. I didn’t have to create playlists. If I utilised the shuffle function, my entire library would become the greatest mix of all time. I was free! Rather than spending my weekends in a remote woodland shack, rereading Uncle Theodore’s manifesto and constructing bombs to send to the CEOs of leading electronics companies, I should embrace technology. Vorsprung durch technik as our German cousins say.

The world suddenly seemed a much larger place: full of light and potential. Girls and boys were playing on the green. Without realising it I had been limiting myself. Suddenly, I dared to dream. What would life be like if, rather than listening to another lacklustre playlist, I left it all to chance? Abandoned the illusion of control. What secrets would I discover? What insights would be revealed? I’d probably be appalled by many of the tracks I’d uploaded, but Pandora’s Tape Box was playing, and, though nothing would be the same again, I had to listen.

Shallow Dave? Shallow? How do you like those perspicacious apples? After that intellectual tour de force, I expect you to eat your words, that rather odd Cossack hat you favour, and a huge slice of humble pie. I'm glad I shot your dog. It wasn't an accident. You know where I live. Bring it on!!!!!

Next issue: Playlist 3: A life without limits

* The one that was smaller than a cassette (the audio equivalent of the Tardis without a prat in a bow tie and a very sexy, but annoying, redhead: unless you played some Cindi Lauper).

** I bought my first iPod in The Great Satan as the max volume was louder.

*** According to Dave this is currently the Sony X series. If you ever suffer from insomnia I recommend you ring him and ask him to explain why.

**** The exception that proves the rule? A playlist that doesn’t have sexual connotations? Think again my friend. It’s not named after the insipid American lager, it references the time I was nearly arrested for gross indecency in a Mercedes in the town of Des Moines, Iowa, with a married Mrs Miller. But don’t tell anyone.

***** I realise that there must be a simpler way to do this, but as I have an aversion to reading manuals and find the thought of asking for my ten-year old stepson’s help too humiliating, I’m unaware of it. Ignorance isn’t bliss, but it’s easier.