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Today I’m going to have a look at what’s in my iPod. Sure, it’s an old meme. But I have an old iPod so it’s okay.
How old is it? It’s so old that it’s one of the early “Windows Only” models.
It’s so old that the irreplaceable battery will play music for a grand total of four minutes to a full charge.
It’s so old it doesn’t even work in those nifty iPod-docks that allow you to play your iPod music through real stereo speakers because it doesn’t charge off of USB power.
It’s so old that I can remember thinking how impossibly huge 10GB of storage was.
I keep it because it still works for what I use it for (listening to music and podcasts in my car) and because I could buy a lot of other, more useful stuff with the $300 it would cost me to upgrade to a new device that does the same thing. (Incidentally, I take the same attitude toward clothes. I am currently wearing a pair of shoes that are older than my daughter, and a pair of socks that are older than my relationship with my wife. I’ve been politely asked not to discuss the age of my underwear in public forums.)
In other words, I make the iconic “Cheap New England Yankee” look like a particularly profligate inebriated sea-farer.
Most of my music collection fits on my iPod with plenty of room leftover for a few weeks’ worth of Gamers with Jobs conference calls. I keep a pretty wide spread of music in it. I’d call it eclectic if I thought eclectic was descriptive enough of a collection that includes Metallica, Garth Brooks and Bela Fleck on the same playlists.
But, as I am no hipster, I see no reason to harp on the matter any further. Instead, I’d like to share with you an artist I’ve selected from my collection and talk about him for a spell.
Most of you are probably acquainted with the Charlie Daniels Band. During America’s brief infatuation with large belt buckles and cowboy hats back in the early 1980s, Charlie Daniels was known for a little song called ”The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” After that he faded out and went away.
Except nobody told him he faded away. Between 1971 and 2007, he released about 30 albums, and he continues to tour to this day. In the early part of the first decade of this century, I got the chance to see him in concert. He played a two hour set and didn’t do two songs from the same album (unless you count A Decade of Hits, which features his top songs from the 1970s including “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”). He plays the fiddle, the guitar and the banjo, and his discography includes country, rock, folk, gospel and blues.
The Charlie Daniels’ Band is the Beatles of country music, if not from a popularity standpoint then certainly from an innovation and influence standpoint. Their ability to seamlessly merge multiple musical genres into a single song or album borders on the chameleonic. The song “Sure Beat’s Picking Cotton” boasts that the CDB is “Rock and Roll and Blues and Country, all rolled into one.” Except it’s not a boast, because it’s not boasting if it’s true. From one song to the next you might not quite believe they’re from the same band, but at the same time you would. The CDB encapsulates everything that’s great from the history of American music without being derivative or me-too-ish.
The CDB boasts of wide influence as well. Bands that have been directly mentored by Daniels include Lynrd Skynrd and Travis Tritt. Bands whose style is to some degree derivative of Daniels’ include Montgomery Gentry among many others.
If the only CDB song you know is “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” you have done yourself a serious disservice. It would be like going to a fine Italian restaurant and ordering spaghetti and meatballs because everybody’s heard of that and tried it at least once. Devil is a great song, if overplayed, but there’s so much more there to enjoy that you truly miss out on something extraordinary if you stop there.
Years ago, back when the music TV stations played music, VH1 had a series called “Storytellers” which featured bands telling stories through songs, or telling the stories behind songs. It always puzzled me that Charlie Daniels was never on that show, because some of his best songs are stories told to music. Moving beyond Devil, songs like “Willie Jones” or “Stroker Ace,” or “Midnight Train” all tell specific stories about people, some of which are suitable to be made into movies (indeed, Stroker Ace was made into a movie featuring Burt Reynolds). Some of his songs, like “Old Rock ‘n’ Roller” or “Renegade” are mildly autobiographical. Still others, while lacking a linear narrative, still paint a vivid picture of a world (“Honky Tonk Avenue”)
As a storyteller, Daniels doesn’t stop with the music. He penned a book of short stories that inspired or inspired by some of his songs (the ubiquitous Devil, and “Honky Tonk Avenue”), as well as some that had nothing to do with his songs (Me and Deke). I bought a copy from the Charlie Daniels Museum in Nashville Tennessee when I went there for a conference, and read the entire thing while waiting in the airport for six hours because I had misjudged how long it would take me to clear security.
Of course, he’s not limited to the role of wandering minstrel and balladeer. The Charlie Daniel’s lexicon includes such country staples as the love song (“How Much I Love You,” “What My Baby Sees In Me”) the breakup song (“Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” “Hey Mr. DJ”), the celebration of country culture (“Twang Factor,” “What This World Needs is a Few More Rednecks”) and even the occasional polemic (“In America,” “Ain’t No Rag”)
Charlie Daniels is the artist whose discography I would bring with me in the hypothetical “desert island” scenario in which you imagine being stuck listening to one artist for the rest of your life. After nearly thirty years listening to him, I’m nowhere near being done and I will surely continue listening long into the years to come.