iPods, Iron Men, and Matchboxes


My first iPod was terrible. And I don’t mean the device itself, my little light blue iPod Mini was one of the greatest things I’d ever owned and one of my prized possessions throughout middle school. No, I mean the contents of my first iPod were absolutely, undeniably, testical-shatteringly horrible. The first CD that I ever burned to iTunes was Matchbox 20’s debut album Yourself or Someone Like You. Ugh. The second thing that I put onto my iPod was a burned CD of random Weird Al tracks given to me by a friend. Slightly less judgmental ugh. Now I don’t mean to shit on either of these two artists, they’re technically fine in the grand scheme of things, but these two were literally it. 40-some tracks consisting solely of Matchbox 20 and Weird Al. I cannot think of a more hellish combination. I’ve read about musical torture in which someone is forced to listen to the same songs at a deafening level for days on end… but my iPod in 2005 would have given those playlists a run for their money. My iTunes library would have been enough to make even the most steadfast soldier spill their guts. But I was happy. Mainly because I didn’t know better, but also because I was amazed I could listen to more than one CD at a time.

In 2005, the same friend who cursed me with the Matchbox 20 CD and the Weird Al mix gave me a new burned disc simply titled “Matt’s Mix.” I had to rely on him as my sole source of new music because he unabashedly used Limewire, and I was too scared of getting a virus or being arrested to use it myself. “This is pretty cool” he told me ahead of time “you’re gonna love it.” Because he hadn’t steered me wrong yet, I tossed the disc in my computer excited to see what it contained. This was a time before anyone knew (or had the ability) to label tracks on burned CDs, so within iTunes everything came up as “Track 01”, “Track 02”, “Track 03”, etc. Intrigued by the mystery (as well as Matt’s ringing endorsement of its contents, I loaded the unknown files into my iPod and hit play.

What I heard was the first destructive, resonant chord of AC/DC’s “TNT”. I didn’t know what to make of it. This didn’t sound like Rob Thomas at all. And the lyrics didn’t discuss Yoda, food, or the lifestyle of the Amish. It was like hearing music for the first time.

The tracks that followed were essentially a greatest hits of the Australian band’s first nine albums. From High Voltage to For Those About to Rock I had been turned onto something that I genuinely connected with. Because I was at the musical whim of my friend, I ended up listening to these tracks dozens of times, replaying them until I knew every word and every beat. Later that same year I realized that my Dad had thousands of CDs just sitting on a bookshelf in his office, and as it turns out, most of them were classic rock. Maybe he wasn’t as lame as I thought. Within the thousands of albums my dad owned were the first eight AC/DC albums, all of which I promptly ripped to my iPod and enjoyed endlessly.

When my dad noticed that I was listening to his music he asked me if I’d ever heard of Black Sabbath before and recommended that I listen to his copy of Paranoid. If I can point to a single moment that led me to love heavy metal it was that album.

Back in 2005 there was one moment late in a cold fall school night. My family had just finished eating dinner, my two brothers had retreated upstairs to their rooms and my parents were out on their nightly walk. I stayed in the living room and snuck that copy of Paranoid into my family’s stereo. I skipped directly to track 4 “Iron Man” and cranked the stereo up almost as loud as it could go. I put my head between the speakers and pressed play.

The sound seemed to reverberate through my body. I could feel it in my core. The ominous drum beat gave me goosebumps. The powerful fuzzed-out chords made my brain contort. Ozzy’s first distorted cry “I AM IRON MAN” made my hair stand on end. It put me in a trance-like state and it was the first time I had ever heard something so heavy so loud. I saw it all when I closed my eyes, I felt it shake the structure around me. It was beautiful. It was metal.

Most importantly, Paranoid paved the way for heavier music that I’d go onto enjoy for the rest of my life. They opened the gates to metal, stoner rock, psychedelic music, and so much more. I can trace it all back to that one night that I spent shaking with joy that something like this existed. The journey that I went on to arrive at that point was definitely a weird one, the jump from Matchbox 20 to AC/DC to Sabbath isn’t a progression I think many other people have made. It’s a cliché, but sometimes the journey really is more important than the destination. In this case it’s a journey without a destination. Music and personal taste has no end point, I’m always discovering new music, and my life wouldn’t be the same without it. I appreciate “the journey” in retrospect, but more than anything, I’m glad it went somewhere quickly. If it wasn’t for that terrible first collection of music I’d have nowhere to go to. Nothing to run from, and no reason to look for anything better. The blandness of Matchbox 20 sent me on a musical journey that’s still ongoing to this day. Thank you Rob Thomas.