iTunes has broken up with me. Not in any abrupt, declarative way, but more like someone who stops returning texts, unfriends on Facebook and always has something else going on. It’s like what Garfunkel and Oates call “The Fadeaway,” the passive, non-confrontational tactic. But I can’t say my feelings aren’t hurt; iTunes and I were so happy for a long time. I could organize my vast (200 days worth) of music into playlists that made perfect sense to me, download cool artwork to flip on my iTunes screensaver, carry thousands of songs in my jacket pocket, thousands of tracks that are unavailable anywhere else, from my collection of vinyl and illicit CD’s, complete live shows, alternate takes, out-of-circulation LPs. All I asked of iTunes was to be like a storage locker for my musical stuff, and if Apple had said, sure, but it’ll cost you a monthly rental fee to keep your tens of thousands of tracks exactly where you like them, that would have been worth more to me than a stupid subscription fee to stream Apple Music, which is of absolutely no value in my life. I’ve got my own music, thanks very much, and if I want to hear newer things or things I don’t possess, I can go over to Spotify, which as far as I can tell has no intention of tampering with my existing library. It’s a separate thing altogether, as it should be.
Friends and acquaintances who have “upgraded” (ha!) iTunes to gain access to Apple Music have recounted nightmares of tracks and playlists being vandalized, “duplicates” being deleted (that is, songs of the same title by the same artist, regardless if they’re alternate takes, demos, live versions; i Tunes has no time to make creative distinctions), inaccurate artwork being substituted, albums being chopped up into fragments. I realize that I use music differently than most normal people: right now, I’m working on one doo-wop-related project and one involving songs from Greenwich Village in the ’60s, so I’ve created multiple playlists of rare stuff, and I’d be appalled if Apple Music decided that it had better — i.e., remastered stereo, re-recordings — versions of some of those songs. I care very much about such matters, and iTunes/Apple Music does not give a damn. I also don’t want someone else “curating” playlists for me. I just put together about 75 tracks that center around a Small Faces axis, Humble Pie, Ronnie Lane & Pete Townshend, solo Marriott, Majik Mijits, and even if Apple Music has the Majik Mijits album, would it know to place it amidst Humble Pie’s Town and Country and Ron Wood & Ronnie Lane’s Mahoney’s Last Stand and Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance on the BBC? Color me skeptical.
And so it’s time for me to wake up and realize that iTunes just isn’t that into me anymore. I have my souvenirs, iPods in pretty much every room, filled with old playlists that will last as long as the iPods themselves survive. The iPod was the invention I’d been waiting for since I was a kid: a device that I could carry around everywhere, with thousands and thousands of songs that I’d selected and programmed, the satisfying click of the wheel, the serendipity of shuffle. The iTunes store was klnd of fun also, finding random songs that I’d been searching for, forking over 99 cents each and having them appear instantly in my library. Oh, I know we’re moving towards a streaming universe where, theoretically, everything is available on demand; the concept of music ownership is antiquated to most people. But first of all, “everything” is not available. I’d make a rough guess that of the 73,000 items in my iTunes library, 15-20% are not going to be found on Apple Music or any other service. And second of all, if everything — even this wildly inaccurate definition of everything — is available, and nothing is owned, the whole concept of a music collection becomes meaningless, which in a weird way means that my entire existence, in the High Fidelity sense, is meaningless. Music is autobiography, as the character in the Hornby novel implies when he decides to order his album collection in the sequence in which the albums were acquired. If Hornby ever gets around to writing that sequel he’s mentioned, this is something Rob is going to need to grapple with: the amorphous, cacophonous blur that online music has created.
I have a grief counselor coming over to make my iTunes break-up as smooth as possible; apparently there are other internet options — the word Plex has been bandied about — that will take a more hands-off attitude regarding what I choose to save and how I choose to save it. It’s a shame, really, because when it was working, iTunes was the ideal solution: import, organize, play. How hard is that? Don’t editorialize about the music, don’t assume that all those versions of Bob Dylan doing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (mono album version, alternate versions, live in ’62, live with The Band, live with Wynton Marsalis…) are redundant and eliminate all but one on a Dylan boxed set. Don’t select album art for me. In a perfect relationship, we accept all of the other person’s quirks and eccentricities. iTunes decided, I guess, that I was too difficult, or obsessive. Sorry it didn’t work out.