Ipod Wars: Last Playlist Standing


As Barb stomped on the accelerator and our Subaru Grocery Getter roared up the onramp to I-90, I plugged my iPod into the stereo jack and thumbed my Spring Break playlist onto the screen. The chiming guitars of the Go-Gos filled the car, drowning out the howl coming from the packed Thule box on the roof.

“Vacation, all I ever wanted, vacation…c’mon, everybody sing!” I looked back and saw the confused expressions in the back seat.

“What is this?” asked Rusty.

“Oh, come on, ‘Vacation’! It was in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation.’

Speaker piped up. “That’s the movie where they tied their dog to the bumper.”

Barb cut her eyes to me. “Where’s Houdini?”

“OH MY GOD.” I twisted around to look out the back window. The kids both gasped. “Relax. I dropped him off with Deanna this morning. C’mon, Barb, you know this song.”

She shrugged, steering around a pokey motorhome. “You know, I didn’t even recognize it ‘til the chorus.”

I threw up my hands. “All right! Next song.” The snotty guitar riff from Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” came grinding out of the speakers. The kids  sang along. I sang along. Barb sang along. We all know all the words because I’ve made it a point to play it on every damn final day of school since the kids were way too young to even start hating school.

Bob Wire, Ipod Wars: Last Play list Standing.

When you have a long road trip ahead of you, it pays to plan your soundrack.

Each of us has an iPod, and on any of our frequent road trips, we all get a turn. Same deal with the home stereo.

As the kids get older and their musical tastes wander further afield from their parents’ choices, it gets harder for me to endure this musical democracy. Of course, it doesn’t help when their dad insists that no good music has been created since Guns N’ Roses released “Appetite For Destruction” (which did not, incidentally, make the cut for the Spring Break playlist).

From Alice we went to Elvis, then to the Bottle Rockets. Adele. Beatles. The Black Keys. I had spent quite a while culling a hundred songs from the roughly 15,000 tunes on my laptop, trying to find stuff that might appeal to all four of us. Or at least not make them call me a triceratops and leave the room, like they do at home. It wasn’t easy.

I think we were just past St. Regis when Rusty thrust his iPod up between the front seats. “My turn.”

I’ve watched with pride and fascination as my kids, both talented musicians, have grown up through the progression of musical taste from Disney princess pop, sugary Kidz Bop covers, Hillary Duff and Mylie Cyrus and other tween tarts into relatively more sophisticated music by Fall Out Boy, Lady Gaga, Green Day, Katy Perry, Owl City, and other young-but-old-enough-to-drive-after-dark artists.

And then dubstep happened.

When I plugged in Rusty’s iPod (“Don’t worry,” he said. “This playlist is pretty mellow”) it took all of 30 seconds for the music to start cancelling out my blood pressure medication.

Like all current pop music, dubstep is based on the “boom-clap” beat of disco. But Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is jacked up invariably to 140 bpm, a tempo that has been scientifically proven to stimulate the part of the thyroid that regulates the homework-avoidance sector of the cerebral cortex. The songs may or may not feature a someone singing a few words here and there, but any vocalizing is just an afterthought.

Dubstep is known for the “bass drop.” The song builds, adding layers of beats and threads of dissonant melody until it reaches its “crescendo” (in the automotive world, this is the sound your car engine makes just moments before it “throws a rod”). Then all sound stops, creating an almost unbearable sense of anticipation, and the music comes thundering back in like Genghis Khan and his Mongols arriving at Zhongdu, anchored by a thumping bass at a frequency low enough to loosen the mortar between the bricks of a school building.

Although dubstep is generally credited with inventing this musical tactic, it’s been around for a while. Back in the olden days when a group of musicians gathered to perform songs entirely with their instruments and voices, it was known as “dynamics.”

So we rolled along I-90, Seattle-bound, bobbing our heads to the music of Rusty’s playlist. Thanks to the unwavering tempo, our rate of bob never changed as one song bled into the next. To my ears, it sounded like I was walking from one steam-powered robot factory to another with a head full of DayQuil and a bad case of horizontal vertigo. Rusty spoke to me of remixes and alternate takes, but he may as well have been explaining the principles of Brownian motion within quantum dynamics, or even algebra.

Rusty’s favorites are among the superstars of EDM—Swedish House Mafia, David Guetta, Deadmau5, Diplo and Skrillex (funny, I thought Diplo and Skrillex were the blood pressure meds I’m taking). The official music of the ecstasy-and-glow-rings crowd, EDM is played in huge concerts packing in tens of thousands of convulsively dancing fans, going ape shit and screaming their lungs out over some guy onstage playing a laptop.

I assume these masters of EDM must have taken years to learn their craft, perhaps starting with a manual typewriter or a Burroughs adding machine. Making beats and bass drops is definitely an art unto itself, like the way a ransom note writer gathers already-designed elements from a wide variety of resources to create his message, usually a demand for cash. And no cops or else.

Speaker contributed her iPod to the cause when we’d reached the point where one more bass drop would have melted the floor mats. We listened to some Taylor Swift, whose songs seem to have been ripped from the drama-drenched pages of a 13-year-old girl’s diary. Her music is catchy, glossy, and smartly produced, but after a half hour of Twilight-level tween angst, I just wanted to give Taylor a hug and say, “Look, you have to get over it. An eighth-grade girl breaks up with a boy every fifteen minutes in this country. And I mean literally the same girl, every fifteen minutes. Get a hobby. Build a schooner inside a bottle or something. Your mailman is afraid you’ll write a song about him because he put a neighbor’s Men’s Journal magazine in your box by mistake.”

We took a break from music to listen to a book on CD for a few hours, but it sounded like it was ghost written by Taylor Swift. I’ve told my high schoolers that this is a challenging time in their lives—they shouldn’t take it all too seriously. High school is not life and death. JUNIOR high school is. And that’s all behind them now.

So the narrator droned on about all the mini-dramas inherent in being a creative misfit in a New York private school, while their boneheaded parents try to play catch-up and stay out of the action while they provide money, shelter, food, clothing and moral support.

As we continued west out of Spokane, the terrain flattened and emptied out into the tedious desert of Eastern Washington. The most visually boring part of the drive. I pushed my sound-canceling Sennheisers into my ear holes and brought my iPod to life. The book-on-CD narrator on the car stereo was pleasantly muffled to the muted-trumpet voice of an adult in a Charlie Brown special.

I scrolled to the playlist entitled My Ears Only and the first song that shuffled up was “Bring Me Sunshine,” a Louis Prima cover by the Jive Aces. I closed my eyes and settled back in the seat.

Ah, sweet, sweet vacation. All I ever wanted.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.