Thursday, January 27, 2005

Dialog with an iPod

7 a.m., somewhere in the air over Southwest Washington state, with a bright orange dawn flaming in the East, and the gray summit of what must be Rainier poking up out of a dark, choppy sea of clouds.

This is the early morning flight from Seattle to San Jose and various stops beyond. It's one of the Southwest planes with the cozy leather seats, and there are very few passengers on this first leg of the trip. So I get a set of three seats, sit in the middle with my laptop, and put down the tray tables on either side for tea on the left and the mouse on the right. No phones to ring, no cats to worry about. And the iPod is shuffling through 3,000 songs, opening with a Fats Waller classic, then introducing me to a lively folk-rock tune--shades of Dylan, Clapton, and Roger McGuinn--"Looking Up in Heaven" by Paul Westerberg (from the latest Wired CD), and seguing with surprising smoothness into Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

I'm using Apple's new Pages software to put together a booklet for my 50th birthday party. It is sufficiently reminiscent of early PageMaker to keep me very happy.

It seems that the iPod has quite a sense of humor. Now it's playing "Progress," Jim Page's biting lampoon of new technology, including headphones. (Radical folksinger Page, who is a Seattle neighbor and a Northwest Folklife Festival acquaintance, reminds me quite a bit of Steve Jobs. Can you imagine a discussion between the two of them? I'd love to host it. Menu: vegetarian.)

OK, the iPod is beyond brilliant. It's followed Page with Tom Lehrer' howl-inducing sendup of self-righteous protest singers, "The Folk Song Army." Now that's a segue worth of my all-time favorite folk DJ, WYBC's Dave Mix.

I'd just mentioned Clapton, so the iPod apparently sensed that and has followed Lehrer with Clapton's slinky acoustic version of "Layla."

Staying on the acoustic English folk/blues theme, the next tune is the late, legendary Nick Drake's "Fruit Tree." Backed by classical musicians, it's a pretty lush piece of music. The sun's up, just emerging from a curtain of clouds, and illuminating a landscape of Oregon's mountains and rivers.

The iPod goes for Handel's "Oh Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion," with much mention of mountains. I'm getting no work done, but having a marvelous time.

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