Music purist that I am, I was slow to catch the Pandora streaming train. To my thinking it was one step ahead of piped in Muzak, what you hear is what you get. Real radio, which I love, has disc jockeys, and disc jockeys liven things up with personality in lieu of algorithms. What a treat to be surprised by a song I forgot I love or another one new to me!
Radio days may not exactly be gone but the cream of the crop have gone the commercial-free, listener-supported route, which is a good thing—except when those radio signals of my favorite FM stations crackle and fade across the miles.
Enter Pandora, everything from blues to baroque, Diana Krall to Adele, early jazz to Bill Evans, classic rock (not as classic I would hope) to Al Green and the Chiffons and, yes, Barry White. All it takes is hearing that string section of his Love Unlimited Orchestra and I’m right there, under the influence of love, ‘70s style (no apologies necessary, even before reading the perspective DJDiscoCatV2 brings via his YouTube commentary).
So hear me out. It’s dinnertime, I’m in my kitchen, chopping and prepping. My trusty Bose sits on a shelf. I can so easily pop in a CD, and I often do, but more often than not I’m not in the mood to choose. All it takes is a dash of Albert King/ Stevie Ray Vaughan via Pandora’s Blues Guitar Legends and the mushrooms in my Chicken Marsala positively shimmer and dance in the pan.
At the lightest touch of my finger on the app, Diana Krall croons, “Too Marvelous for Words.” Dinner is served.
It was all so swell, really, this lazy listening, commercials intermittent and not too intrusive. Until one day, and from then on every time I tuned in to any of my Pandora stations, a message came through loud and stridently clear in the voice of Mike Lindell trying to sell me on a pillow guaranteed to give me the best night’s sleep ever. His success story may, in the words of Bloomberg News, be preposterous, (former crack addict turned entrepreneur) and I wish him no ill. But that grating voice had me running for a pillow to put over my head, not under it, giving me all the impetus I needed to break up with Pandora.
There is, indeed, no free lunch and no free music gotten without a price to pay.
I tried, really I did, to tolerate it.
I resisted the impulse to upgrade to the paid version of Pandora, even as I reminded myself that an app that gives me so much deserves something in return. But I already pay for Apple Music, which I can’t say I take full advantage of.
So, here’s what happened instead.
I started combing through my treasure trove of CDs, choosing ones I hadn’t listened to in a while, a more deliberate kind of company to keep while cooking. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, jumped out at me. The art of a great album is the segue, one song seamlessly into the next. It’s a segue of sorts, too—isn’t it?—when the next CD calling out to me is John Coltrane, Ballads.
This is your brain on music, really a mind/body thing when anything you love listening to infuses itself into your spirit.
I could go down the list of albums rediscovered, maybe even heard in a new light, memories recalled. I could tell you, too, how that re-listening had me picking and choosing songs for playlists of my own making, a joy to listen to via that thing called wireless speakers. And let’s not forget my Bose SoundTouch app, which gives me access to my fave FM stations, streaming a more consistent medium than choppy radio waves.
But somehow I began to miss my Pandora. Maybe it was time to make up, take her up on her pay-for-play manifestation?
At this very moment, a cusp-of-spring rain outside my window, Bill Charlap (via Pandora’s Bill Evans radio station) has me in an “Autumn in New York” trance. I don’t often write to music but today it feels so right, and, God knows, I need that soothing easy piano jazz to calm my nerves, what with news headlines that make me more jittery by the day.
Ay, here’s the rub.
In the time it’s taken me to write these words, “Autumn in New York” has segued to a handful of other easy listening piano standards that settle in me like the wine I’m sipping. Bill Evans is back now with “My Foolish Heart,” anything but foolish in the way it interprets its messages. The algorithms that string together songs in the music apps we buy into are no measure for the thought that goes into an album from start to finish. And they do get boring.
But that, my friends, is the price you pay 🙂