Last.fm Spiral

As a follow up to a post from January, I continue to scrobble the music I listen to on Last.fm (I’m now up to 133,000 unique song listenings – madness). As I mentioned earlier, although the primary use for Last.fm and Pandora and their ilk is to find new music, they also permit you to use that body of listening data in odd ways that can be entertaining. Case in point – the Last.fm spirals generated by Sha Hwang (found via this Last.fm blog post). The version generated at the site is interactive and lets you see which artist is associated with which lines, but here is a static version to give you a flavor – very cool.

Last.fm spiral for user rb3
Last.fm spiral for user rb3

Time machine

I often write here about the associations I have with certain pieces of music. As much as I love all sorts of music for its own sake, there are dozens hundreds thousands of songs that lodge in my memory not just for their melodies or lyrics or instrumentation, but also for the simple fact that they spark particular memories. Like a faint hint of perfume, a few notes of music is often enough to conjure up astonishingly vivid memories – some good, some bad.

For almost a year, a lack of free hard drive space brought to a halt my efforts to rip our CD collection. Christmas fixed that, so I have been trying to rip a few CDs a week since then. Old CDs and shuffle play on an iPod make for all sorts of unexpected combinations of music, much of which has gone neglected for far too long since I never listen to CDs anymore. (They’re just so nineties.)

Cover of U2’s 1992 Achtung BabyOne band that I’ve been very remiss in ripping is U2, but this week I am fixing that. I started with Achtung Baby. Although it was released in November 1991, its universal popularity across my college campus really fixes it in my mind in spring 1992, when everyone’s windows were open, and I would marvel at being able to walk from Funston to Park Place and never be out of earshot of someone playing this album. I even had a joke in my column in the paper suggesting that we all start the album at prescribed times to synchronize the listening experience across the campus.

Spring 1992 was the end of my Junior year of college, and while it had its share of accomplishments and satisfactions, it was also a time of frustration and transition. I went through my last awful round of adolescent betrayals that year, and like any adolescent rite of passage, I took them hard. So the dozen tracks on Achtung Baby serve as a bit of a touchstone for me. I have never been a hard core U2 fan, although my first album on casette was U2’s War from Bert’s Tape Factory. Instead, it was the record’s simple ubiquity that spring that wove it into my memories of a time when some important bonds dissolved and I shed some final youthful illusions. Trite stuff, to be sure, but nonetheless powerful as well.

With this background in mind, I have to say I had not been prepared for the impact of having my iPod randomly serve up songs like “So Cruel” and “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.” Thoughts of long moonlit rambles and sullen sessions with the Bishop have come flooding back to me, reminding me how indelibly some episodes stamp themselves on one’s memory. They also remind me how glad I am to be grown up and, for the most part, beyond that kind of roller coaster. There’s plenty to worry about in my life these days, but there’s also so much more to anchor it, and the contrast between then and now is quite something to behold. And all of this triggered by 17 year old pop rock music. We find our Muses where they find us, I suppose.

On the flip side of the music coin, spring 1992 was when I was introduced to Joni Mitchell’s 1971 gem Blue for the first time, as well as to David Wilcox‘s beautiful songwriting. I still cannot hear Mitchell’s “Carey” without thinking of piling into my friend Jason’s slightly ratty ol’ Jetta and storming around the Connecticut countryside when both of us had more than enough things we should have been doing. Looking back, there’s no doubt in my mind we made the right decision then. Homework fades, but real friendship endures.

Cowboy Junkies Sighting

Our TiVo, via TNT, served up a 1996 Law & Order recently, an episode titled “Aftershock” which was the final show of the show’s sixth season, which ended with the death of the lovely Jill Hennessy’s character (Claire Kincaid). In the course of this show, Benjamin Bratt’s character (Rey Curtiss) meets up with a young Jennifer Garner (Jaime) and after several hours of flirting they wind up in her apartment. My hat is off to whomever chose the music Jaime uses to seduce Rey, because it’s the Cowboy Junkies‘ cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” off of the 1988 album The Trinity Session, followed by “Hold On To Me” off the then-new Lay It Down. As a devotee of Margo Timmins’s singing for almost twenty years, I would easily rank these are her two most alluring tracks, so Law & Order’s soundtrack person clearly chose with great care.

Sweet Jane was the first song I ever heard by the CJ’s. My friend and neighbor, Marc F. (an accomplished musician and entrepreneur), burst into the room around 2AM one evening and removed whatever was in the CD player so he could put this amazing song in. I doubted his urgency until I heard her first notes, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Simply amazing.

Last.fm Wave Graph

I track what I listen to via Last.fm. (They call it scrobbling.) You can find me here. Since June 2005, it’s tracked 120,890 songs I have listened to (that’s not unique songs, but unique listenings). Why in the world do I do this? To make pretty pictures, of course. In October, I saw this among Scoble’s shared items, which set my mind turning. The one I saw was generated by Lastgraph, but I have to say I’ve had no joy getting my data to render there. Last night, Google coughed up a link to a Windows-only app (boo) called Last.fm Extra Stats. I put it through its paces today, and it cranked out a chart in no time. There are quite a few options, and I will add a few below to show what it can do. Pretty fun.

What interests me about these visualizations (similar to these comments), is how much I can remember about the point in time by looking at the waxing and waning of different musicians and albums. Music packs such an emotional punch, and it does so in a way that my brain really latches on to.
Normalized Wave Graph

Wave Graph

Wave Graph

LOTD: Hearts and Bones

An update to this so-not-daily series…

This morning’s playlist included Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones, the title track from his fifth solo-album released in 1983. I love Paul Simon, but still his writing sneaks up on me in ways that can be surprising and poignant after listening to the same track a hundred times. A case in point:

And tell me why,
Why won’t you love me
For who I am, where I am?
He said: ’cause that’s not the way the world is baby.
This is how I love you, baby.
This is how I love you, baby.

Here he is performing this song in Central Park, in 1991.

You can buy the song, or album, on iTunes.