Eras of Music Discovery, and Why I Just Can’t Spotify

I recently downgraded from paid Spotify to ye olde free version. They said, “Ooh, baby, give me one more chance…”

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…but I did not let them back in my heart.

So, I wasn’t really using Spotify, which is a great reason to quit. I found it inconvenient for listening in the car—plug it in! wait for it to connect! figure out what I want to hear! hope my service doesn’t go out!—unless I was going on a long trip. And artists don’t really make money from it, and I want the artists I like to make money.

But my #1 problem with Spotify was, and has always been, this: There’s just too much freakin’ music.

Before Spotify, I got into music in a bunch of different ways:

1993: Saw Free Willy, asked for a portable compact disc player and the Free Willy soundtrack for Christmas, listened to “Will You Be There?” through headphones at the dining room table (because if you moved the player at all, the CD would skip).

My first CD.

1994-1997: Friend’s eccentric dad made me copies of Weird Al tapes. Saw Alanis Morissette videos on VH1, purchased album at The Wall (lifetime guarantee!), listened to first few tracks on drive home with my mom, was mortified to learn that second track (“You Oughta Know”) contained the F-word, did not even know what “would she go down on you in a theater” meant. Saw Titanic five times –> “My Heart Will Go On.”

1998-2000: TRL. And the radio, of course.

2001-2004: I would hear a song I liked on some music-video channel—Fuse? The Box?—and download it using the file-sharing site of the moment. (RIP, original Napster.) This is how I ended up with at least 50 unlabeled CDs of random crap from this era. (I have them in my car. Paul likes to pop them in on long drives. One contained several Shania Twain songs. Another, several Blessid Union of Souls tracks. One had a song by City High that wasn’t “what would you do if your son was at home / crying all alone on the bedroom floor ’cause he’s hungry?”) My friends got me into Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer (and I’ll never forgive them). I also liked to go to Target and purchase albums that just looked cool. (How I got into Modest Mouse.)

2005-2008: College. I worked for a freakin’ music magazine. I was definitely not cool enough for the job, but many of my coworkers were. And once I heard of an artist I liked, it was easy enough to find an album through some program that let you download music from other computers on your network in the dorms. Hence: full albums from MGMT, the Decemberists, Death Cab, Kings of Leon (when they were cool), Justice, and on and on.

2009-Spotify: I went back to the high-school method—obtaining songs from the internet (not from a sketchy Napster-like service! ones that were hosted on blogs, through sites like Hype Machine) and burning random mixes to CDs. I’d find the songs through XPN, or Sirius XMU, or Stereogum.

And then I joined Spotify, and it became, “HOW MUCH OF THIS CAN I LISTEN TO?” instead of, “Oh, I like that song. I think I’ll check out the album, listen to it several times, and really give it a chance.”

And you have to do the latter thing in order for music to become a teleportation device.

By that, I mean, you know how there are some songs or albums you can listen to and they transport you back to a particular moment and/or era in your life?

Some personal examples:
“Landed” by Ben Folds = breaking up with my long-term high school boyfriend and finally settling into college
“Sentimental Heart” by She and Him = my first fall in the Lehigh Valley, trying to keep a long-distance college relationship afloat
“No One’s Gonna Love You” by Cee Lo = driving to Bethlehem (while belting this out) on a cold evening in December 2010 in search of my first solo apartment

If you only listen to everything one time, you’ll never build those connections. And there will never be a song that makes you feel the freedom of ending your first serious (and not awesome) relationship, or the bittersweet feeling of clinging to the past when you know you should really be moving forward, or like you’re going to go look at a shitty apartment because your roommate is moving to New York City and almost all your friends will follow her soon but you don’t know it yet.

Music is for emotions!

In conclusion, I bought a couple albums on iTunes today and thought, “I don’t have any blank CDs. This stinks.” And then a coworker was cleaning out his office and put a whole stack of blank CDs on the free table. It’s a sign. Spotify-free is the way to be.

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#YesAllWomen Are Told to Be Fearful

A few years ago, I took a free women’s self-defense class at a local martial arts studio. The instructor’s first advice to us was, “Never go anywhere alone.”

Don’t go for a run alone. Don’t go to the grocery store alone. Don’t even walk to or from your car in broad daylight alone.

He actually told us that! He actually told a room full of women never to go anywhere alone! And he MEANT it!

Awaiting our lecture. Click through for more photos that really misrepresent the overarching message of this class.

Awaiting our lecture. Click through for more photos that really misrepresent the overarching message of this class.

When I read through some of the #YesAllWomen tweets, this was one personal-experience incident that came to mind for me. Sure, I’ve been catcalled more times than I can count. I’ve been followed while running twice. I’ve been made to feel unsafe by men, strangers and non-strangers alike, and that’s bullshit.

But what this instructor told us was a different kind of bullshit. His message was, “You should feel unsafe, always. You should have a less-rich experience of life, just because someone could be lurking out there, waiting to hurt you. It’s better to hide away in your home where it’s safe* than to venture out into the big, scary world all by yourself.”

(*My most alarming experience of this nature happened inside the place I was living at the time, so apparently I shouldn’t have even been there alone.)

I expected this class to be empowering. I expected to be told, “Here are some practical ways to kick someone’s ass if you ever need to defend yourself.” Instead, I was told, “Step one: Live in fear. If that doesn’t work, well, here are some defensive moves. But they aren’t nearly as effective as living in fear.”

That’s not fair.

Yes, bad things can and do happen to women at the hands of men. But teaching women to be constantly fearful is not the answer.

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Pennsylvaniaversary

Six years ago today, I drove to Allentown with my mom to check out some places to live during my three-month internship at Bicycling.

It was pouring rain, just like it is now. We got horribly lost trying to find the house I was seeing first. (Thanks, Mapquest!) We finally found it, I decided to live there, and because we had already planned to stay overnight–at the glamorous Wingate, right by the I-78/Hamilton Boulevard interchange–we needed to entertain ourselves.

So we drove to King of Prussia and went to the mall. Obviously.

Here are the things I knew about Allentown before that first visit:

  • We passed it en route to my aunt’s when she used to live in the Philly suburbs.
  • Dorney Park was there.
  • Billy Joel wrote a song about it. (Which I only learned a few days before I visited, and which I only later learned was more about Bethlehem than Allentown.)

Here are the things I learned about Allentown during that first visit:

  • King of Prussia isn’t that close to Allentown.
  • Pay attention or you might turn from Cedar Crest onto Hamilton Boulevard going the wrong way.
  • The Wingate is a pretty decent hotel.

Seriously, we did not do much exploring. I was only going to be there for a few months, after all, and then I would move to a more exciting, urban place like Philadelphia where I could just continue having the same friends and doing the same things I did in college.

In fact, during my first full weekend in my new home, I left a party my housemates were having to drive to Philly to hang out with college friends.

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Me at that party. I am really making an effort to meet people and have fun, right? Right?

Literally on my way out the door at said party, I met Paul. (And by “met,” I mean, my friend Matt introduced us as I was heading to my car with my overnight bag, and I was like, “Hi. Bye.”)

And I’m living here in Allentown, six years later, just a few blocks from that first house, very happy with my life, planning my wedding to Paul.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. “Be a total turd, leave the party early, and you’ll still end up with the person you’re supposed to be with”?

That’s probably not it. It’s probably more like, if you’re living in a new place, give it a freakin’ chance.

I totally didn’t do that for my first six months in the Lehigh Valley, even after I’d gotten a full-time job. I was constantly visiting college friends in Philly, high-school friends in Binghamton, or, later, my college boyfriend (an ill-advised reunion born of a mutual unwillingness to give our respective new places a freakin’ chance) in Richmond.

It’s hard being in a new place and living a new life. I remember feeling completely out of my mind with Wishing I Were Still in College some nights. “Why don’t people want to do stuff during the week?” I thought. (Because, work. I’m one of those people myself, now.) I remember thinking how much happier I’d be if I lived in Philly. In fact, I had an interview for a job in Philly the same week I got my job in Allentown. (A job that sounded totally sucky, in retrospect. I’m glad I decided to stay here!)

But the painful transition phase probably wouldn’t have lasted so long if I’d spent less time wishing I was elsewhere.

In conclusion…Allentown is cool!

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Race Recap: St. Luke’s Half Marathon 2014

Until I have photos from the race to share, here is a picture of my cat sprawled out in a sunbeam. (Edited to add: I have photos now, but I’m still going to leave this here. Everybody loves Nermal.)

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So, I ran a PR! My first PR in the Big, Frequently-Run Distances (5K, 10K, half, marathon) since this race last year. A 1:36:33, 2:05 faster than my previous best.

Stoked at the finish line. Moments before I'd been making a pukey face but then I noticed the photographer.

Stoked at the finish line. Moments before I’d been making a pukey face but then I noticed the photographer.

In my buildup (January 1-race day), I ran about 150 miles more than I did to prepare for this race last year. YOWZA. Coaches make you WORK.

We had perfect weather (45 degrees, overcast) except for the wind (intense enough that I tried drafting for the first time). It was 60 and sunny last year. How much of this PR is thanks to the weather? I will never know.

I tucked in for the first 6 miles or so with a coach and his coachee who were aiming for a 1:37. (See below.) I don’t know that they appreciated my company, but…whatever.
Splits:  7:28, 7:28, 7:21, 7:23, ~7:06, ~7:06 (I missed a mile marker.)

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Then, they started to slow, so I went around them. This is about when I tried to take a Peanut Butter Gu and realized how important it is for me to have my handheld water bottle for washing-it-down purposes. Couldn’t choke down the whole thing. #FuelingProblems. This would have spelled the death of me in a full marathon. Can anyone recommend savory, caffeine-free gels that aren’t as thick as Gu?
Splits: 7:26, 7:20

Post-Gu, we hit the section in the race that majorly slowed me down last year — a couple crushed-gravel hills, a pass through a kind of treacherous covered bridge (uneven boards + very low lighting + sunglasses = wipeout risk), and then a climb up the race’s largest (paved) hill. Somehow, I kept pace for the first of these two miles. I was pleased with that.
Splits: 7:18, 7:52

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Then, just a 5K to go. This is where my coach told me to “ROLL OUT,” so of course I had Ludacris in my head, which was not a bad thing. I did my best, but we were suddenly going into the wind, and this section ain’t flat, either. I tried to tuck in behind people, I may have been hunching over to do so, and that may have been what gave me some pretty gnarly side stitches. Whatever — I finished strong.
Splits: 7:22, 7:27, 7:59 (for last 1.1 — that’s 7:15 pace)

Looks like I still haven't fixed my wonky form.

Looks like I still haven’t fixed my wonky form.

Does anyone know why there are two mats at the finish sometimes? Which one is the actual finish? Also, I need to not do this with my watch.

Does anyone know why there are two mats at the finish sometimes? Which one is the actual finish? Also, I need to not do this with my watch.

So, I am happy with this, and excited to see what kind of marathon I can run this fall.

Me and my friend Lauren -- who also ran super-well! -- after the race.

Me and my friend Lauren — who also ran super-well! — after the race.

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Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned

In light of this developing story by my friend Cait, about some people who either made or bought fake bibs for Monday’s Boston Marathon, I have a confession to make.

In 2010, I bandited about three miles of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon. I have been deeply ashamed about it ever since, especially when I declare how awful banditing is and how bandits deserve to face consequences.

(For those who don’t know: Banditing is the act of running a race without paying for it. For a more in-depth look at it, by repentant former bandit Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me‘s Peter Sagal, click here.)

Here is how it went down: I was in Philly Saturday night visiting a couple friends. I knew I had to run 18 miles Sunday morning, but I didn’t want to commit to the race, because I knew that would require me being up and about by a certain time.

(We ended up staying out until the bars closed at 2, then getting some pizza, so being at the crowded start line a few hours later in Full Hangover Mode would not have been ideal.)

I still woke up pretty early — 8 a.m. I think — and decided to head out despite not feeling so hot. (I was so young and spry, then!) I noticed the race going on and thought, “Hmm. I could probably hop in and run on the course, and no one would say anything.”

So I did, and no one did say anything.

However, I immediately felt wracked with guilt. My eyes darted to and fro, fearful that someone would come charging out of the crowd of spectators to drag bib-less me off the course.

I had visions of myself as Kathrine Switzer.

I had visions of myself as Kathrine Switzer. (Except she paid for the race!)

“But I brought my own fuel and water,” I tried to reason. “I’m not using the course porta-potties. I’m not using the resources the runners paid for.”

But on some level, I knew I was. The runners paid for the course to be closed to traffic, and for the right to take up space on said roads. I didn’t. I was stealing. I was wrong.

So, at Kelly Drive, I hopped off the road and onto the riverside path that is always open to the public without traffic. And that’s where I did the rest of my long run. I haven’t set foot near a race I haven’t paid for — unless it’s to spectate or to volunteer — since.

I’d like to make this my official public apology for the three miles of half-marathon that I stole. I don’t know what my penance should be (three Hail Marys and one mile-23 water-stop volunteer assignment?), but I can promise that it’ll never happen again.

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