Monday, January 09, 2006

American iDols and Mammon

My current iDol is an iPod. I don’t have one. Almost everyone I know has one, and I want one, badly. I want the 300GB Gigando, which holds about 75,000 songs, or roughly 7,500 albums worth of music. It doesn’t exist. Ideally, it would play music for roughly 16 hours per day for the next 1.2824 years, without the need for recharging, and without repeating any songs when in Shuffle Mode. Most people don’t have a need to store 7,500 albums on something the size of a credit card, but I do. Or I will, at least if the current trend of receiving 5 – 10 free CDs in my mailbox every week continues for much longer. Such is the blessing and the curse of playing Music Critic. And I figure that with the iDol, I can just add more and more music without the corresponding guilt that comes from watching CDs spread like a cancer throughout the house, taking up first all of one room, and then another, then whatever spare closet space might be available. The kids are heading off to college, but is that really a reason to downsize? Hell no. That leaves one bedroom for Kate and me, and three to store music. That sounds about right. Besides, if or when grandkids arrive, they can just move a stack of CDs or ten and sleep in the spare beds.

Occasionally it dawns on me that this way of thinking may be as warped as some of my now unplayable vinyl LPs that were left out in the sun too long. Unfortunately, I exaggerate only slightly. What does it say when my current music collection is larger than that contained by our suburban Public Library? I don’t know, but it’s probably not good. I figure we can always build a tasteful wing on to the house if need be, the Andrew Whitman Music Memorial, featuring the Sufjan Stevens Shrine, the Richard Thompson Terrace, and the Grateful Dead Grotto. Kate, ever the pragmatist, desirous of a simpler, uncluttered life, sometimes says things to me such as, “Why don’t you at least throw away the albums you genuinely don’t like? At least do that. There are probably hundreds of them you’ve never played, or played only once, and that you hate? Why don’t you at least get rid of those?” My eyes narrow suspiciously. “Which of your children would you throw away?” I ask her. “Which part of your past are you willing to discard? You don’t understand. This isn’t stuff. This is life.” And I mean it, sort of. I don’t care about the plastic. I really don’t. But I do care about the associations, the memories, the way that songs prick through my complacency and make me alive to the world around me, the warp and woof of the way music is woven throughout my entire life. You might as well ask me to cut off my arm.

But this too is life: yesterday Ram preached a great sermon at church about money, or, more specifically, Mammon – the god of the Idol Rich. He talked about money as a God substitute, a rival deity. He talked about the allure that money holds out – the promise of security, power, freedom, a more abundant life, and about the stark choices that confront us – to serve God, or to serve the false idol Mammon, to declare our allegiance by the way we live our lives and the way we view the not-so-Almighty Dollar, to be other-focused and not me-focused.

And he’s right. He’s absolutely right. I think about these things, a lot. And it is amazing how easily I can flip-flop on these issues. I am rich. I am not rich. I have too much. I don’t have nearly enough.

Only .4% of the world’s population makes more money than I do, according to a survey that John McCollum recently posted on his blog. So give me your tired, your poor, your wretched masses yearning to be free. Yeah, buddy. So why is it, Mr. 99.6% Wealthier Than Thou, that you have no idea how you’re going to pay for two kids who will be in college at the same time because you just don’t have that spare $40K or $50K per year lying about the estate, and how is it that more than half of every paycheck never even makes it to your bank account because it’s automatically deducted in four kinds of taxes and in retirement savings and in charitable contributions, and how is it that with all of your so-called wealth, you can’t afford to buy a frickin’ iPod, Nano, Gigando, or otherwise?

These are the questions that these infernal guilt-inducing Internet surveys and well-intentioned sermons never seem to address. But I do know this. My natural tendency, the ever-present pull in my life, is toward me. My ever-present tendency is to hoard, not to give away. And I believe that’s wrong, and I don’t want to be that way. I occasionally see some grudging progress. Hey, if selling that stupid I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House CD will help some starving kid in Cambodia, then go for it. More importantly, I’ve seen both the amount and the percentage of our charitable giving go up over time. And I don’t regret that at all. I’m thankful for that. But I really do want that iPod, and I wish I wasn’t somewhat resentful that I don’t have one. I’m not proud of that. But it’s true. And so I talk to God and ask Him to change me, to make me less selfish, to help me focus on what is truly important and lasting. It’s not stuff. It’s not even what I like to fondly think of as “life.” It’s Life. It is a battle that will continue. But I hope, and I pray, that the Almighty Me will lose a little more frequently, and that others, and the Kingdom of God, will be served.

Thanks, Ram, for a great, uncomfortable sermon. Or maybe I should say Damn you. No, I’ll leave it at Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Hey Andy, let me know which ones you're thinking of getting rid of. In fact, why don't I help you out with your burden of guilt by going through your collection and picking out the ones that I would be willing to relieve you of. All I can think of is, thank God I didn't have to hear that sermon.

By the way, the new Delbert McClinton CD is one of his very best. Especially for those of us with eclectic taste. There's at least a half dozen different musical styles represented.

Stay well, keep on the sunny side, and keep me in mind next time you have a conscience attack.

Andy Whitman said...

Bill, you make me laugh. I have some old John Denver and Neil Diamond albums that have your name written all over them.

Anonymous said...

What, no Tony Orlando and Dawn? All of those would be good candidates for a tax deductible contribution to a worthy charity. Valuation-wise for tax purposes, they'd probably be worth far more than you or I would personally value them. John, Neil and Tony probably have many more fans than the New Pornographers.

By the way, if your collection contains such gems as those you mentioned, I'm persuaded that God was speaking directly to you through that sermon.

Repent, brother!

mg said...

i don't have an ipod

so that makes 2 of us

(i don't plan on getting one either...or really want one for that matter. i enjoy cds too much --something i can hold in my hands)

danthress said...

I don't have an ipod either. I just try to store the music in my head. That means I have to keep my hard-drive relatively clear of clutter. I'd like to get my CDs down to about 12.

I used to travel to auctions with my brother. Auctions teach you the value of your stuff. When we die these things will be auctioned off for a few dollars.

I also had everything stolen in a move a long time ago (they stole the moving truck). And, I purged almost everything when I moved to Europe. So I'm an experienced minimalist.

Martin said...

The solution is clear: get yourself an Amazon marketplace account and sell off enough CDs to buy the iPod.

Word verification string for this comment: bcdhbpjh (Bad Company doesn't hafta be played, Jim Henson!)