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The Perfect Song (before Google) November 19, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Music, Philosophical musings.
Tags: ,

I heard a song the other day, and I got a little sad. Not because it’s a particularly sad song (well, actually, it is a particularly sad song), but because it’s a little reminder of what Google has taken away from me.

The song was Time by Alan Parsons Project. It’s a breathy, languid lament that you probably don’t recognize by its title alone. It’s one of those songs you hear and then say, “Oh, I remember that song.” Here, listen to the song and see if you don’t recognize it. Of course, the possibility exists that you’re not old like me, in which case you are excused.

The song itself is not my point. I have a memory associated with this song. It’s from high school, when my buddy Steve and I were working on a slide show for a big school ceremony. The theme was something about history, and we wanted a string of songs about time.

This task was right in our wheelhouse. Steve is a kindred spirit for me, because we both have scary good musical knowledge and recall. Songs about time? Easy. Our lame classmates would have just played Time After Time in its entirety, even though Cyndi Lauper’s hit has very little to do with the theme of the historical passage of time. Instead, we went for Pink Floyd, and Alan Parsons, and maybe even a little Alice Cooper (I’m Eighteen) if I recall correctly.

These songs selections are no remarkable feat, to be sure, but they evoke a pre-Google time when developing such a list of tunes required a lifetime of music appreciation. Today, you just Google “time lyrics” and you get dozens of good choices. I’m also a little sentimental about the mechanics of making our slide show music montage. We would go to Steve’s older brother’s apartment because he had a killer music collection. We would play the song a bunch of times to decide just which clip we wanted. Steve’s brother also had the rare tape deck with an input volume knob, so we could fade songs in and out on the tape. Once we found our song section, we’d hit pause on the tape deck, then record. We would play the album or CD, start the tape rolling, and fade the clip in. Then we’d rewind the tape and play it again so we could cue it up at just the right spot for the next clip. This process took hours, days sometimes, for a few quality minutes of slide-show music. And let me remind you that the slide show used actual slides!

Today, you don’t need a killer CD collection. You download what you need. You don’t need a tape deck (for that I am profoundly grateful). You can chop up songs, and fade them in and out, with a mouse click. And you don’t need a lifetime of music appreciation to choose those songs.

Is that a bad thing? Steve and I used to start singing songs over others’ conversations, just because we knew the perfect song. We’d hear a girl complaining about a boy lying to her, and Steve would sing Honesty by Billy Joel. She’d declare that he needs to apologize, and I’d launch into Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. I’m sure we were terribly annoying. We were – and are – crazy good at this game called Encore in which you are given a word and must sing a song containing it. We’ve been banned from playing in several states.

I even wanted to be the guy who picks out the music they played for sports highlight reels, like, as a career. I just didn’t know how to become that guy; it’s not exactly a career path the counselors tell you about.

It’s not like Google has completely robbed me of my quirky talent. Indeed, people still call or email to ask for song suggestions, and I always get a thrill. And anyway, my sadness is all terribly narcissistic. Why should I care that people don’t have to call me when they need the perfect song for a preschool graduation ceremony, and instead they Google “preschool graduation ceremony music” and the first hit is Top Ten Songs for Preschool Graduation Ceremonies? Should I really be bitter? Certainly this immediate retrieval of information has made the world a better place, right?

I suppose. Forgive me, though, if I quietly huff at the poseurs planning preschool graduation ceremonies playing Greatest Love of All when I think a Wayne Watson song would have been so much better. I shall remain the grumpy artisan decrying the new-fangled robots attempting to do his job more efficiently, but without that touch of humanity and experience. Maybe I should just get back into that habit of singing over nearby conversations.

“But time keeps flowing like a river, on and on, to the sea….”



1. Steve Sloan - November 19, 2009

Thanks for the memories Mark. I just happened by the new incarnation of 90210 last night – not that I was watching it – and they played “I’m Eighteen”. I immediately thought of our slide show soundtrack.

You’l be pleased to know that we still have a purpose in this world, because I got a call just a few weeks ago to help suggest songs for a birthday DVD. It was a good feeling…

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