Requiem for an iPod

Astrophysicists explain the mysteries that surround it / But the record stays still while the world spins around it / All the rest are vicious lies, callous and unfounded / The record stays still while the world spins around it
Record Store, Darren Hanlon

Today’s my birthday: I’m 31. I awoke at 4.45am in my tent to the soft sound of a bullet train shooting past the adventure playground. Reaching into my pack, I found one of the worst presents ever: my iPod was gone.

Some time in the last few days it fell out of my bag or was stolen. There were plenty of opportunities for either. I leave my backpack unattended all the time, outside toilets or convenience stores. Partly from necessity, partly because that’s what everyone does here. Japan is a very safe country. My electronics bag sits in the top of the pack, for easy access, and a draw string is my only lock. The pack isn’t designed to sit up unsupported, so is forever falling over.

I hope someone at least found it, before the rain got to it, if it wasn’t taken. I’d hate to think nearly 16,000 tracks went to waste. (Or worse: deleted in favour of two dozen crappy pop songs.) There were some rare tracks on there, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into gathering and editing them, as readers who have been following Four Corners since last year would know. I only hope Goat, who takes his replica with him to work, hasn’t deleted “all that ambient shit”. Now’s the time to back it all up onto DVD, Ian, something we never got around to doing. Don’t delete everything by mistake.

I’m going to miss that iPod. It’s funny getting attached to a little hunk of technology, really. It’s not the iPod itself I’ll miss, of course, it’s the experience of music that it provided. I didn’t listen to it every day, but when I did it was a little mental holiday, or a chance to learn something new.

It’s hard to say what music I’ll miss most. Probably The National’s Boxer, which I just never got tired of. A very understated album, but one that kept growing on me since I first heard it last year. It was only after repeated listens, for example, that I realised how good the drumming is, despite its simplicity. One of my memories from this walk will be walking along the footpath through the urban sprawl of Osaka with my pack on my back listening to Fake Empire, the opening track. I listened to it three times in a row that day. In the mind’s ear I can still hear the quiet reverb that kicks it off.

We’re half awake… in a… fake empire…

At the end of the day, in the moments before exhausted sleep, I turned from rock to ambient, the music of slumber. Recently I was listening to old favourites like Cinematic Orchestra, DJ Shadow, Biosphere, and Woob. The rainy season is almost over now, but there’s nothing like lying in your sleeping bag in the Japanese forest, all your muscles aching, looking up past your hanging socks to the rain pounding on the tent roof as the lush, rain-like intro to La Femme D’Argent floats you away.

Summer is here. The mercury is climbing over 30 during the day, and the humidity is high, so walking along the shore of Lake Biwa I started taking a siesta after lunch, the sound of James Gordon Anderson’s beautifully hypnotic Concord sending me off to sleep for an hour. I’d wake refreshed, and after a cold lemon sorbet from the convenience store I was ready to walk into the cooler hours of the evening. I’ve been lucky enough to have footpaths, mostly, so it was safe enough to get out my iPod and listen on random for half an hour or so as the sun set. So much of the music was completely new to me, thanks to the collective efforts of Ian, Martine and Tyler. To take just one example, I enjoyed discovering the fresh similes in Little Chills by Darren Hanlon, who I’d never heard of.

Our hands lying useless in our laps, like beetles on their backs.

It wasn’t just music either. I listened to the entire Treasure Island while journeying between Iriomote-jima and Yakushima islands, the first time I’d experienced it in nearly 20 years. I sampled Walden, lectures on the use of technology in the classroom, Hans Christian Anderson, Shakespeare’s sonnets, a history of the internet, Alan Watts discoursing on eastern and western philosophy, Japanese folk tales, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Heart of Darkness. The last thing I listened to was half of one of Allen Ginsberg’s lectures from a Basic Poetics university course held in 1980. He was proclaiming Milton to the class when the bass in the other earbud blew, and I realised I was going to need to buy some new earbuds before I listened to any more music.

Well, on the bright side, I saved myself some money. I won’t be replacing it — I’ll just have to write more instead of listening to other people. And I still have my passport, and my Nokia, which I’m typing this on. Oh, and my wallet, although there’s nothing much in there I’ll miss! One of the things I’m realising on this walk is that the more attached you are to something, the more misery you’re creating for yourself. Everything is lost eventually. It’s strange that we live in a throwaway society, and yet are so attached to things. Anyway, I should get started walking — it’s past 7am and I’m already working up a sweat. The post I was planning to write today will have to wait a little longer.

I’m in Gifu, heading north for Ogimachi, a World Heritage village of gassho, or “praying hands” thatched cottages. Yesterday afternoon I met Cozy the biker, on his way to Hokkaido, and we did the special handshake three times: once to say hello and twice to say goodbye. I walked to the park, and after the baseball team and dog walkers had all gone home for the night I had a nice cold shower under the tap. I hung my clothes up on the hilltop fort and slept on grass. There was a cool breeze and this morning my clothes were dry. I cooked up an Indian curry for breakfast and just ate a Snickers bar to get me going. The sky is blue; life’s good. No, really. It’s just an iPod. 🙂


p.s. I’ve scheduled an entire week of haiku for this week. Other than one big gap, I’ve basically managed to stick to my goal of writing a haiku a day — some days up to ten.

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11 Responses to Requiem for an iPod

  1. christopher says:

    happy birthday chris! sorry for your loss, but it sounds like you're having an amazing experience. perhaps it's a weird question – but i wonder how you were recharging the ipod? is that why you hadn't listened to it in a few days?

  2. M.M. says:

    Hi chris!Happy birthday,but I really feel sorry for you that your iPod was gone.

  3. hydrolith says:

    Hey, thanks Christopher, good to hear from you! The answer is Takes about two days in the sun to fully charge, hanging off my pack, and has enough to recharge my phone and ipod. Can also be charged from a wall socket. Nope, just didn’t listen to it every day, plus I needed to replace my earbuds.

  4. hydrolith says:

    Thanks, M.M. — and thanks for the link! Will be writing about meeting you at Basho's grave later on http://www.fourcornersofjapan.

  5. ted says:

    Happy birthday Chris. You seem to share this day with two other avid walkers- myself and Henry David Thoreau. His own birthday entry relates somewhat to your loss:

    "Thoreau's Journal: 12-Jul-1851

    Now at least the moon is full, and I walk alone, which is best by night, if not by day always. Your companion must sympathize with the present mood. The conversation must be located where the walkers are, and vary exactly with the scene and events and the contour of the ground. Farewell to those who will talk of nature unnaturally, whose presence is an interruption. I know but one with whom I can walk. I might as well be sitting in a bar-room with them as walk and talk with most. We are never side by side in our thoughts, and we cannot hear each other’s silence. Indeed, we cannot be silent. We are forever breaking silence, that is all, and mending nothing. How can they keep together who are going different ways!"

    As for me, music has a stronger hold on my emotions than the weather. I feel your pain…

  6. hydrolith says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Ted. Had forgotten about the Thoreau connection. Another is Julius Caesar; apparently that's why we glory in a month of 31 days. Look forward to checking out your blog.

  7. Kathy says:

    Hey Chris, Happy Birthday. I remember a birthday spent in Colorado some 11 years ago. I have used up my supply of tissue for the month over the loss of your iPod–so much lost. This will give you more time for the sounds of the season–listen carefully—. Love you, Kathy

  8. mountaingoat says:

    At least you don't have to listen to any more stoopid lectures.

  9. Hey Chris,

    So sorry to hear you lost all your music. You have taken a very philosophical and mature approach to this (in your shoes I probably would have cracked the shits!).

    Hope you had a very happy birthday and that karma delivers you something kickarse in exchange for the Ipod. Love your haikus man, keep em coming!


  10. Dan says:

    Happy belated birthday, Chris. Sorry to hear your lost your pod. I enjoyed your thoughtful and elegant post. Walk on…

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