The fire that got my fingers to the keys was one of the those amazing structure-in-randomness epiphanies, the kind that knock you off balance for a second. I don't know if my incredible powers of ambiguity could possibly make that any less detailed, so since you already know I'm going to say that we'll get back to that later, I'll just skip over that part. (Does he mean the whole thing or... you don't know!)
If you know me, you know how attached I am to my iPod. If you don't, just know that among our friends, the group of iPod afficiandos frequently get into shouting matches with our other friends who have snapped after going days having to repeat everything thing they said two times. Most people think it's because I love the iPod itself, but that's not actually quite it. The iPod is, in fact, just a pocket-sized version of iTunes, and that's where obsession starts.
When I first got my Mac about a year ago and started using iTunes with a fair amount of reservation, my buddy Casey told me "just promise you mean you won't become one of those 'iTunes-changed-my-life' fanboys." Fortunately for me, at this point even Casey has an iPod so I can proudly admit that I'm just not going to be able to keep that promise. You see, it's not so much that iTunes has changed my life... it's just that it has completely changed the way I listen to and relate to music... music, of course, a core aspect of my personality... and day-to-day life... ... fine, you win.
Remember that big fat hook I planted way back in the second paragraph with just a tad of clever writing and a whole lot more bad grammar? Oh, you forgot about it. I guess that was bound to happen, I'm not really much good at breviety. Anyway, it had something to do with structure in chaos, so here's where I'll actually attempt to make a coherent point. Wish me luck, I'm probably gonna need it.
I use 'Smart Playlists' far more (probably 90% of the time) than the traditional, or static, playlists. I've used them for quite a while, at first because I just like how they acted almost like a relational query interface for your music, which at the time was just 'shiny and new.' But now that I've been building my playlists, and constantly tweaking the little things (sort order; what constitues 'recent' versus 'new'; how many? forty tracks, forty one tracks, forty tracks, forty two tracks, ad infinitum), I've begun to realize that iTunes begins to incorporate and reflect the musical personality, tastes and habits of it's listener.
And it was this playlist - which is actually a small chunk of a larger smart playlist - that finally made me realize it. The details (skippable unless you really care): the playlist is a 22-track selection right out of the middle of my "Recent >3s" smart playlist, defined as all the tracks that have been played in the last week who's rating is greater than three stars (">3s", I do advocate breviety in iTunes).
Since the rating system is the basis upon which I listen to music, this can be summarized as "all of the good stuff I've played in the past week." Already you can see how iTunes can be configured to act more biologically. Sorted in descending order of "last played," if you're playing directly from this list (with live updating enabled) the list even re-orders itself after each track. If you take it a step further and move back and forth between smart playlists that use similar subsets of conditions, you begin to find that one list can influence another in interesting and remarkable ways.
The point is, as I was playing this particular smart playlist, I glanced down at the next good chunk of songs to be played after the one I was currently listening to (which, by the way, was 'Smoke' by Ben Folds Five, the inspiration for the title of this blog) and realized that those tracks accuratley represented not just the music I've been listening to lately (an obviously simple effect of the conditions of the list), but they actually create something of a snapshot of who I've been in the recent past. I've come to think of it as something of a auto-generated sum-is-greater-than-the-whole mix tape for the Internet age.
They're not all tunes I would consider favorites, many of them I don't even consciously remember hearing in the past week (I could have sworn I haven't heard 'Rio' in months). No one makes mix tapes anymore, although my generation may be the last one to remember them (we didn't even make them much, we just heard them from the older cool kids), and if I actually sat down and try to put together a mix tape that was me as of late, this playlist would be it, straight up.
And of course, the novelty is that a that I can do this a week from now or a year from now and it will surprise me every time. Music is my life, so why not try to describe my life in music? That's my time, now... go watch some Family Guy or something.