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I've got the magic power of the music in me

I've got the magic power of the music in me

I passed a personal musical milestone this weekend, which inspires me to rhapsodize a bit about the importance of music, particularly my music library, to me. Yesterday, I added the 50,000th track to my library: “No Expectations” by Tom T Hall and Earl Scruggs, from the album The Storyteller and the Banjo Man. I added it, along with several albums of Tom T Hall, as a result of an afternoon in the pool with April discussing, among many other things, Hall’s remarkable songwriting skills.

And that represents in a great way how I’ve built my music collection, meticulously tended, backed up to multiple clouds and hard drives. I’ve always had a great love for listening to music, although  my lack of tonality and nimble fingers caused me to be barred from the Catholic School choir and without enough tenacity to master an instrument beyond the simplified piano version of “Chariots of Fire” I  learned in sixth grade. Still, no other art has so salved, inspired and soothed me through good times and bad. Most who know me well know my broad but selective tastes and have spent a late night singing or at least squinching eyes along with a particularly poignant passage. Most of my great friendships, and even my marriage, came alongside some level of musical kinship — always with the special gift of exposure to something I didn’t know before.

My college roommate, Chowder, taught me the merits of heavy metal and hip-hop, genres I’d previously eschewed. I also learned from that exposure that there are gems and dirt in every genre, which meant that musical mining could be rewarded. Our pals Al and Chris turned me on to Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ and Meat Loaf, respectively, leading me to mine both Southern rock and the artistic cheese of Jim Steinman. My hoopster friend Billy taught me that there was greatness in the deep cuts of a seemingly played out artist like Billy Joel.

Once I moved to Dallas, as a single guy who knew no one but had just enough disposable income to pick up some used treasures at CD World (RIP), I became a bona fide collector, seeking the rare, the unusual, the great performances. I went well beyond the greatest hits of old favorites like Elvis Costello and The Rolling Stones and in doing so tripped into the likes of Merle Haggard, Jesse Winchester and Gram Parsons. I started following local bands like Eleven Hundred Springs and The Old 97’s.

Then, I moved in next to Houston, and late nights on Worthington Avenue (aka “The Pink House Sessions”) became a nightly song swap. I’d loved Lou Reed but never really listened to VU. I’d never howled to Son House. I learned the Texas greats like Lyle, Rober Earl Keen and Joe Ely.

And then came April, and another whole library, heavy on old-time vocal jazz and greats like The Jazz Butcher. And as always, each new act added another set of influencers and related bands.

As the collection has fleshed out, I’ve dug deeper — most of what I’ve added in the last year has been either out of print music found from great music blogs or live bootlegs.

This obsession has continued unabated, and always with an eye towards having as much of my favorite music as close by as possible. I’ve gone from mixtapes to six-disc players to 100-disc players to Minidiscs to iPods and now to the cloud.

But these 50,000 tracks are not just museum pieces — they are living music. Each has been listened to at least once. Some other stats, all a bit skewed because of the size of the library and the size of certain artist libraries:

6,031 total artists.

I manage my library via iTunes star system, as follows:

  • 1- Things I want to keep but not listen to and/or “broken” tracks. A good bit of this is interlude or intro tracks from live albums. 2.7% of the library
  • 2- Holiday music. 4.8% of the library
  • 3- My average song. Good enough to be in the library. Never disappointed to hear it. 70.1% of library
  • 4- Really good. 17.9% of library.
  • 5- The very best. Guaranteed to make my spirit soar. 3.5% of the library. 
  • Unrated: New stuff (to me) not yet categorized. 1%
Most-played artists:
  1. Old 97’s
  2. Todd Snider
  3. Ben Folds
  4. Wilco
  5. Queen
  6. Tom Petty
  7. The Beatles
  8. Willie Nelson
  9. Van Morrison
  10. Johnny Cash
  11. The Rolling Stones
Most-played albums:
  1. Ben Folds: Ben Folds Live
  2. Paul Simon: The Essential Paul Simon
  3. Asylum Street Spankers: What? And Give Up Show Biz?
  4. Buck Owens: Collection
  5. Tom Petty: Live Anthology
  6. Wilco: Kicking Television
  7. Old 97’s: Blame it on Gravity
  8. The V-Roys: Are You Through Yet?
  9. Warren Zevon: Genius
  10. Old 97’s: Too Far To Care
  11. Leonard Cohen: Live in London
Most-played songs:
  1. Old Crow Medicine Show: “Wagon Wheel”
  2. Lucinda Williams: “It’s A Long Way to the Top”
  3. T. Rex: “Children of the Revolution”
  4. Alejandro Escovedo: “Castanets”
  5. Old 97’s: “Here’s to the Halcyon”
  6. Warren Zevon: “Lawyers, Guns and Money”
  7. Ben Folds: “Army”
  8. Warren Zevon: “Excitable Boy”
  9. (tie) Supertramp: “The Logical Song”; Old 97’s: “Big Brown Eyes”; Old 97’s: “Doreen”; Sam Cooke: “Bring it on Home to Me”; John Prine: “Spanish Pipedream”
Up-and-comers (played inordinately in past year)
  • Serge Gainsbourg
  • Marty Robbins
  • Tom Waits
  • Avett Brothers
  • Lots of jazz
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