Ah, manic cycle! How I’ve missed you!  Another pure tell-tale manifestation of the manic phase occurred tonight, when I realized I was sick of scrolling through my iPod to find the right classical piece. Well, let’s just fix all our tracks, then.

(Barks of humorless laughter from some of you, I know.)

To Apple, I make the following requests for the next version of iTunes: Upon attempting to sort the tracks in a classical-music library, the iTunes program should generate a significant electrical shock through the keyboard, dissuading the user from attempting this again. If the user attempts to order the tracks more than six times, the shock should be disabled, since this guy’s obviously on a meth jag: let him go and get out of the way.

To the people who added information to the CDDB, which my computer hovered up and slapped on my tracks: first of all, thank you. It is spirits such as yours – tireless, selfless – that makes the internet possible. In the future, however, you might want to consider how track information is displayed. If you call a particular track Lustig Adagio and leave it at that, I don’t know what to do with it.  I’m pretty sure that’s how the movement should be played, but on the other hand, I knew a girl named Lustig in high school, and it’s possible that this snippet was performed by Adagio Lustig, conductor of the Czechoslovakian Philharmonic (which has since split into the Czech Symphony Orchestra and the Slovenic Philharmonic; the latter got the strings and the former got the brass). Then again, too much information is a bother as well – I don’t need to know the opus number in the title track, unless the artist is Tommy Dorsey. I don’t even need to know the key, believe it or, unless I'm going to be on Jeopardy next week and my competition is the Ghost of Leopold Stokowski. You may think you’re being helpful by typing “Symphony #1,024 in C-sharp Major, opus 43,125 by Alan Hovhanness,” but all my iPod screen shows is “Symphony #.” I end up scrolling through the playlist for nine minutes, looking at“Symphony #” without additional information.

What’s that, you say? Check by composer? Sure! Love to! But not all tracks have composer information. Sometimes the piece was played by Beethoven, sometimes Beethoven is the album title, sometimes Beethoven is the artist, sometimes he’s the title track, sometimes he’s Bethovean, which throws everything off.  It reminds you that the internet is a vast library assembled by ANTISOCIAL OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE ANAL RETENTIVE people who are unable to agree on anything. What to do?

Simple: sort the playlist by album, and fix every line by hand. Since the album view tends to highlight individual composers – unless you’re dealing with those godless BBC compilation discs you got in the nineties – this should also give you nice blocks to which you can ascribe composer names. Then resort by composer and add art. Ah, but where to get the art? Classical albums aren’t like rock albums – smaller press runs, diminished supply. So: use portraits of the composers. They’re easy to find. Most of these guys I knew already, but there were a few surprises. This, for example, is exactly what I expected the guy who wrote Cavelleria Rusticana to look like:

Goombah! (That was the opera used in “Godfather 3,” if you’re curious.) I was also not surprised to see Smetana as a rather dolorous fellow; as much as I love his music, the name just sounds . . . moist and dank and fungal. To my irritation his picture infected the entire complation album on which “the Moldau” appears, and I can’t get rid of it. Now Bach and Beethoven and Ravel and Debussy come up with the same miserable picture. He’s the Droopy of classical music:


Some of the other composers presented challenges – go with the younger picture, or the older one? We tend to think of composers in their older years, serene but serious men carved from stone, staring at history from a daguerreotype. But if you seriously, for a moment, consider changing the art to reflect the opus number, you are mad. For Mahler I went with the classic grizzled high-head profile taken from a larger famous arms-akimbo shot: I will whip this orchestra into shape and devil take the woodwinds! I will embed my baton in the eyesocket of anyone who balks at my tempi!

Why am I doing this? Because every week I’m listening to a different symphony or concerto in the morning. After I get Gnat on the bus I come home, call up something on the iPod, and listen while I troll the wires. It’s an excellent start to the day, and if I listen to talk radio I go mad. At nine AM I turn on Bob Davis, and then I go mad, but it’s a consensual thing; he’s insane, too, but in a good way.

It’s odd, being alone.

No Gnat.

Today I made myself lunch, and looked at the empty space at the table where she’d sat at noon for five years, and I tell you, it was like a fist to the sternum.

Ah. Ah well.

And it’s odd to listen to Bob in the morning, because his producer is my old producer, Jeremy the Dark Chef; he was an indispensable part of the Diner, and one of these days I’m going to get him over here for an appearance. I still can’t do a Diner without knowing how we’d do it. This week’s installment is a perfect example; it’s a nice balance between blather and plot, the latter arising just as it used to: didn’t plan it, but suddenly I saw how I could put one and one together.  Timely as today’s paper! We would have spun this plot out over a week.

Ah well.

So what am I listening to now? “The Odd Couple”  opening credits theme, of all things. Not the chipper stupid TV version, but the ur-60s version for the movie, with the harpsichord and Hammond organ – comic, sardonic, wry, and (pause in the score; that would be the moment where Felix attempts to raise the window to jump out, and ruins his back . . . continue) very swank, but melancholic through and through. Of course, while I wrote that the iPod went on to the next batch, which is the latest soundtrack by Mark Knopfler. I’m not grandly enthused by his later solo work, which sometimes seems long and hunched and whispery and monothematic, but this suite – the “A Shot At Glory” soundtrack – hits the spot. If you plug in “Generic Celtic Stuff” and “Knopfler Soundtrack” into the great celestial jukebox, you get “Local Hero” and “Cal,” two suites of incomparable bliss, and this one belongs in their company.

Anyway, that’s my day. Well, that plus all the stuff I did to make money and keep the house clean and the child fed and the rest of my tiny cosmos humming. Have a fine weekend – back Monday with a surprise guest appearance, if all goes well. New Diner - hit the link below for the podcast version with fancy embedded graphics, and subscribe! Helps my ratings. The plain vanilla mp3 is here.

(New Quirk, of course – Saturday too, you know. )



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c. 2005 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."