Fumes for the monkey

I plug my iPod into the computer to charge its battery and the iTunes page flickers automatically onto the computer screen

First, a list of the tunes in my library appears, then, because I can’t help myself (I can rarely help myself, regarding any temptation), I click to the iTunes store.

Gotta see what’s available in the New Listings.

Most times, there’s nothing displayed on the banner that interests me, so, desperate for any little bit of digi-entertainment, I scroll down past the movies and the TV shows to the Genius Recommendations.

I shouldn’t do this (see not helping oneself, above).

I have a problem with the iTunes Genius.

The Genius does not understand me. Not the me I should be.

The iTunes folks make it appear the Genius Recommendations are tailor-made for me. Somewhere, deep in the digital bowels of the iTunes corporate machine is an algorithm or a similar bit of computer geek software mojo that allegedly works to figure out what Karl likes, based on what Karl has purchased or examined.

But, it isn’t working that way.

Given the reality of the Genius, I’m beginning to think that, instead of a math-based system, there’s a chimp locked in a cage in the iTunes basement randomly pushing colored buttons next to my name in return for the occasional snack.

Either way, it’s obvious the Genius, or a chimp, has been huffing toxic fumes of some kind and needs a timeout in rehab.

I have purchased many songs from iTunes over the years, ranging far and wide in terms of artists, styles, eras, etc. I have eclectic taste in music: on a trip to the iTunes Store I am likely to snap up a tune from Manchester Orchestra, a piece by Ray LaMontagne, a new one by Patty Griffin or St. Vincent, a classic by the Bonzo Dog Band, some Vivaldi, a smidge of Ornette Coleman, a snippet of Arthur Lee and Love.

This should then be reflected by the Genius, wouldn’t you think?

But, no.

I made a purchase the other day — Captain Beefheart’s “Big Eyed Beans From Venus,” a serene ditty I recommend to everyone.

This should have been reflected by the Genius, wouldn’t you think?

But, no.

I scrolled down to Genius Recommendations following the Beefheart buy and what did I see newly added to the list, based on recent purchases?

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” by The Buckinghams and Greatest Hits of the Grass Roots.


I pushed my way through the Genius list and correlated what I found with what I had purchased.

I bought Frank Zappa’s “Catholic Girls,” the Genius sent me The Cowsills.

The G also offered me a “compendium” of hits from The Blues Magoos. As I remember, this bunch of Jersey geeks had only one “hit.” I was acquainted with some of the band members when we all bunked into seedy digs at The Albert Hotel in Manhattan in 1967. The best thing about them was that they were sponsored by a lava lamp company and had a shitload of lamps of all sizes in their “suite.” Note: When in doubt and completely screwed up, stare at a huge lava lamp but, whatever you do, don’t listen to The Blues Magoos.

The Mary Jane Girls? Why, because I bought one song by Rick James?

Shout at the Devil, by Motley Crue? Huh? Did this have something to do with Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine?”

Granted, my daughter Ivy is friends with Vince Neil, did all manner of nefarious things with Vince and company, once lived in Vince and Leah’s pool house in Beverly Hills and went to their wedding in Vegas, but I have never listened to a recording by Motley Crue. Don’t intend to.

The Best of Rick Derringer?


The Herman’s Hermits Retrospective?

Gary Puckett and The Union Gap?

The Gap Band?

The Punch Brothers?

Have I done something wrong? Am I being punished?

Did I somehow insult the iTunes robot (or chimp)?

I was baffled for a while, then I figured it out: the Genius had determined how old I am. I now believe iTunes accesses birth records, tax forms, school yearbooks, booking sheets and uses the data from these sources to figure what the customer likes. The robot (or chimp) determines your age, then provides the “appropriate” tunes.

This explains the Lesley Gore album, surf music and The Best of American Bandstand-1957 that the Genius recommended last month.

Let’s see: Karl is 67 years old. That puts him just this side of Guy Lombardo and nearly two generations distant from Die Antwoord.

The G knows that, despite the painfully self-indulgent crap dispensed by people in my age group concerning how radical and creative we were and are, the average 67-year-old had pretty dismal taste in music when he or she was a teen. That’s what the Genius figures Baby Boomers like, since they are obsessed with their youthful existences, so that’s what it dispenses to Baby Boomers.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s examine the bestselling hits of 1963 as an example. Let’s check what was popular (and, thus, a prime target forthe Genius) versus what was worthy (and, thus, not on the Genius radar).

“Sugar Shack” slides in at No. 1. For the entire year!

Hey, look, at No. 9: it’s “Washington Square,” by the Village Stompers.

Who’s up for a bit of “Sukiyaki,” by Kyo Sakamoto?

Trini Lopez. Ah, Trini Lopez.

A pretty dismal year, wouldn’t you say? (If you are younger than 45, I recommend you take a taste of some of these tunes on the iTunes sampler — you’ll get my drift pretty quickly.)

Good music was at a premium in 1963. This is not to say there weren’t some outstanding tunes out in 1963: “Be My Baby”, by The Ronettes and the ever exotic Ronnie Spector (formerly Veronica Yvette Bennett), “Pride and Joy” by Marvin Gaye, “Ruby Baby, by Dion, and “Then He Kissed Me,” by the Crystals, with the inimitable Lala Brooks on lead vocal. Pretty damned fine.

But, these were more than balanced by Lou Christie’s “Two Faces Have I” and Bobby Vee’s “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”

There was some quality, but quality doesn’t count with the Big G — only your age, the info mined from your high school transcript and juvenile court records, and what was popular in a given year. I bought a few excellent tunes from the year 1963 and the Genius recommended crap.

On the horizon in 1963: The Beatles, the Stones, Them, Miles Davis. But, do they show up on my Genius list?

Go to 1964, and rather than “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You,” G gives me “Everybody Loves Somebody,” by Dean Martin or “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers.

I feel dead inside. Blighted by demographics.

The Genius doesn’t seem bright enough to figure that some of us 67 year-olds, way back when, preferred Martha and the Vandellas to The Dave Clark Five, Dusty Springfield to Lesley Gore, Millie Small to Chad and Jeremy.

And, yes, even back then, some of us were listening to Howlin’ Wolf, Solomon Burke and Junior Wells.

John Mayer makes my Genius list. Where’s Junior Wells?

The final insult: I buy Sun Ra’s “Love in Outer Space” and the Genius gives me Spanky and Our Gang.

Our Gang.

I’m screwed.

I need to find a way to get some decent fumes to the monkey.


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One Response to Fumes for the monkey

  1. bill Musson says:

    i saw the blues magoos with sir douglas and the quintet at the fairgrounds in dayton, ohio after i climbed the fence….not so great….left early….then there was the shoup shoup song in 63……enjoyed your story..

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