An interlude: Variations on a theme

A record sleeve, an iPod, an Android.

Hi! Thankya lots for being here. I’ve been keeping at this for just about eight months now and it’s still kind of incredible whenever I get like notifications or a new-follower alert or my visitor hits come from anywhere other than my own devices. Aside from that burgeoning blogger’s lingering thrill of new engagement, I do feel like I can finally stop calling this a “nascent blog” as it rounds the last quarter of its first year, and maybe also that it’s time for a State of the Blog-type update.

I had no expectations for 12,700 Songs when I started it on a whim last spring. Like, I knew what I wanted — something to hold me accountable to a project I’d previously let sputter out into a handful of unceremonious ends after nudging them along some equally half-hearted beginnings, but this time also embracing the excuse to write about the music I love and the state of my music library suspended in an arbitrarily selected moment — but I had no long-term vision beyond hopefully churning out things not unlike personal essays for more than a few limping weeks before abandoning yet another blog.

Since June, I’ve surprised myself by not only sticking with this but also genuinely enjoying it. I’m not really promoting this blog, unless you count some occasional brain drippings flung at Twitter, but I am coming back to it and writing for myself. And that second part is also something I was hoping 12,700 Songs would help me with.

I didn’t want to put too many restrictions on myself, knowing that’s a surefire way to turn me off fast. But to maintain some kind of structure, I decided to limit myself to the 12,700 songs on my iPod at the onset. Elegantly even numbers have a certain aesthetic appeal to a writer whose creativity extends to some objectively laughable arithmetic; the more zeroes a number ends in, the more charmed I am by the happenstance. I’d been toying with giving an alphabetical listen a this-time-for-serious go when I’d happened to notice my iPod landed on one of those auspicious digits and figured aw hell, how often do my situational awareness and some pretty numbers align, and then launched the blog without giving it much more thought than that.

I’ve since stumbled on things like blank tracks and commentaries that don’t count as songs to me, just as I’ve realized I own so much goddamn music that some songs and entire albums never made it onto Slothrop the iPod, or that some inexplicable duplicates have. There’s been some manufactured management to maintain the even roundness of the titular 12,700 songs, and I imagine I’ll do a little additional tweaking here and there as I find more digital non-musical snippets that have gone undetected over the decade this iPod and I have been together.

Part of why now seemed like the right time to explore a finite version of my musical library is that I feel like it’s passed all its major growth spurts. I try to keep my taste from stagnating and, thanks to friends whose exemplary tastes I trust and Spotify eerily intuiting exactly what kind of stuff it should introduce me to, I feel like I’m doing an acceptable job of not becoming that cranky codger who bellyaches about the glaring inferiority of music these days. But so many of the bands I love most have long stopped making music, or beloved musicians have died; those who are still creating or have gone on to newer projects can only release so much music among themselves. I’m no mathlete but I feel like it’s safe to assume I won’t be buying music as feverishly as my teenage and 20something selves once did. Especially now that a premium Spotify account is basically the same thing as a bottomless iPod, some notable glaring absences notwithstanding.

But even in these past eight months, bands I love have rereleased rarities, collections of hard-to-find goodies, and other fan-friendly archival retrospectives (like Rilo Kiley or Western State Hurricanes). Or I discovered an early gem that is so out of print I’d never heard of it before a little catalogue deep-diving showed me what I’d been missing (like The Real Tuesday Weld). Or I fell hopelessly in love with a new-to-me band whose discography I need in its entirety and pronto (like Okkervil River). Or bands I thought that would never put out another album again were suddenly emerging from the silent ether to bless the world with an offering of music after a decade and a half of nothing. Like Cricket Rumor Mill, or the entire reason I’ve button-mashed this post into existence.

Slothrop the iPod currently boasts 12,823 songs, thanks largely to the bands mentioned above. But he also has a playlist called “12,700 Songs” that preserves the integrity of what he looked like when I decided to get this project up and running without any real plan for its future. I tend to run at things without really thinking them through, guided by the joys of exhilaration and applied creative necessity in finding a viable path to the end by blazing my own trail. It encourages a flexibility in both thinking and attitude that keeps the sense of wonder I am mostly guided by well-honed. Flexibility, I think, is key in cultivating that requisite humility all good creative endeavors need: You can’t summon something beautiful (or at least worth sharing with anyone else) from ego alone. And I think that same willingness to adapt is a mighty fine safeguard against letting this blog get stale. A retrospective is fine and all, but playing that foundational past against the living present will allow for a shown-not-told context that can enrich them both. I hope.

When I found out earlier this month that Cricket Rumor Mill was releasing their first album since I was in college (2005, specifically), it was some of the most exciting musical news I’ve welcomed in ages. Sure, off the top of my head, I can think of three other bands I love that put out new albums since I started 12,700 Songs, all of which I enjoyed but didn’t feel compelled to say much about beyond talking with friends who also already like those bands. This is different. This is patience and quiet hopes paying off in the best possible way. And hoooooly bejeezus, I am so arms-flailingly excited about this album that was absolutely worth waiting 16 years for.

If the pace I’ve established is the pace I keep both listening to and writing about my musical library, 12,700 Songs has a life expectancy of maybe five years, assuming my laborious math is to be trusted. While there does seem to be an element of diminishing returns looming over my taste in music the farther into the future we go, I have to imagine more bands I love and even some ones I’ve yet to discover will have musical treats waiting to greet me in that time. And if 12,700 Songs is still in its first year and I’m already this amped about a new album, it feels inevitable that there’ll be others.

So while this blog will always and predominantly exist to alphabetically saunter through my iPod, occasional reviews will join sporadic stats and whatever other asides drag it into the anecdotal present. And you can blame it all on having many, many things to say about the newly released Aloha but having neither the place to put them nor the lung capacity to properly shout every last one of them.

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