Ten years ago, I was living in a rat-hole apartment in a crooked building in Baltimore (though we had a doorman!) when someone broke into my car. Of course, they took my stereo, which was probably to be expected, since it was a JBL and was, as I recall, pretty nice. But they also rifled through my most personal of possessions (at least personal enough to leave on the floor of my car): my CD case, filled with every single disc I owned at that point, a gloriously clunky collection of emotions and memories and bad bootlegs, alphabetized and cross-referenced within an inch of its life. Also known as the thing Steve Jobs was just about to make completely obsolete.
Because within months, his corporation, Apple, would release the first incarnation of the iPod, a bricky, cream-spinach screened thing that could hold up to 2,000 songs (!) at the time and would, through various slipstreamed, memory-expanding upgrades, come to completely change every single aspect of the music industry, the least of which seems to be the complete disappearance of the CD case.Steve Jobs’ impact went way beyond computers. Check out his innovations in the film industry.
Jobs’ iPod — and, of course, the accompanying iTunes Store, which arrived soon after — made music a tangible thing, a totem you could carry with you, share with your friends or add to out of thin air. It made the audiophile’s long-unfulfilled dream of having your entire collection with you an absolute reality (even if it also helped suppress the audiophile’s other passion, high-quality sonics), a fact that revolutionized the way music intersects with our lives. For the first time, we could create own soundtracks and do it within seconds. It made cases and bookshelves and shoeboxes full of CDs irrelevant and, in a lot of ways, is busy making the actual CD irrelevant too. It turned songs into commodities, brought into question the intrinsic value of art, destroyed the idea of the album artist and very nearly brought the entire industry to its knees.
Not too shabby. And with Jobs’ death on Wednesday, one can’t help but begin to consider his place in music history . Were he and his iPod as influential as Ahmet Ertegun, Berry Gordy or Thomas Edison, the man who invented the phonograph? Absolutely. Did he change the business like Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson? Probably. Were all of their contributions as glossy? Most definitely not. But such is the case with most revolutions: There’s bound to be a few casualties.
And while I can’t speak to the whole “Cult of Apple” thing, I can say that, as a music fan, Steve Jobs forever changed my life and the lives of a lot of other people. One day, we will look at our children and tell them all about these things called CDs and these places we used to buy them called record stores, and they won’t believe us, because it all seems so impractical. Take that however you will. Progress, regression, inevitable. Jobs was the man who seized the moment, turned the tide and will continue to do so, even in death.
To wit, I own a 160GB iPod “Classic,” a pocket-size thing capable of holding some 30,000 songs. That’s equal to almost 18 CD cases. All my emotions, ever, alphabetized and cross-referenced, with album art miraculously added. And yet, I keep it with my keys in a bowl by the front door. Not only that, but I am often told that I should get rid of it, replace it with an iPhone or something better, smaller, brighter. And that’s all a testament to Steve Jobs, really. He was a man who kept changing the future so often that he made the present seem obsolete.