A few weekends ago I went skiing with my own personal soundtrack. Standing on top of the local ski mountain, with a brilliant blue sky over my head and bright white powder beneath my skis, I adjusted my headphones under my hat and fired up the iPod. I picked the soundtrack to 2001 for my first selection and I had to laugh with delight as the opening notes of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” echoed in my ears. It was perfect. I stood atop the slope and watched other skiers go zipping away below me and the portentous music made me feel like Elvis about to step out on stage—or like a man-ape about to club an adversary to death.

The rest of the album worked perfectly. The ominous, mysterious notes of Ligeti’s compositions turned the white tails into the setting of science fiction movie, and the “Blue Danube” provided perfect accompaniment on the chairlift as I watched skiers carve their graceful sine curves into the powder on the tail alongside.

Later I took my personal soundtrack along for some night skiing. Night skiing is surreal enough on its own. The bright lights, white snow, and dark trees and sky transform the world into high-contrast black and white, something as unnatural as a movie. It seemed only right to add a soundtrack to this ski noir world. I found that the music I played altered my mood and the rhythm of my skiing. I made slow, sweeping turns as I listened to Aaron Neville croon “In the Still of the Night” (from the Red, Hot and Blue collection) but all of a sudden I turned aggressive when the Plimsouls come on with “In this Town” or Lou Reed played “Rock and Roll” (from Live in Italy). Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” was delightfully incongruous on a cold chairlift, while the otherworldly Frippertronics from the Robert Fripp-produced Sacred Songs by Daryl Hall made me feel edgy and paranoid as it accompanied me up the chairlift into the darkness. When George Jones sang “These Days I Barely Get By” I took it as a commentary on my skiing ability.

Just as I pulled up to the lift and settled into the chair with a bump, the iPod began playing “This Is the Day” by The The, from the 1983 album Soul Mining. It’s a wonderful song, one that even managed to survive its use in an M&M commercial. Despite the uplifting sound of the chorus (“This is the day/Your life will surely change”), it’s not really an optimistic song. Listen closely and you’ll get the sense that even if your life does change, it probably won’t be for the best.

You could’ve done anything if you’d wanted.
And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky.
But the side of you they’ll never see
Is when you’re left alone with the memories
That hold your life together like glue.

As I sat on the chairlift, alone, on a night when I chewed over the memories that each song from the iPod conjured up, those lines felt appropriate.

I was very disappointed—even a little angry—the first time I heard “This Is the Day” being used behind images of anthropomorphic hard-shelled candies cavorting with their chums in a commercial. From what little I knew about Matt Johnston, the man behind The The, I got the impression that he was a somewhat acerbic, anti-commercial kind of guy, the last person you’d expect to shill for a candy giant. It’s not as jarring as hearing a cruise line use Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” as a plug for wholesome family fun, or Jaguar using the Clash’s “London Calling” to sell luxury automobiles, but it comes close.  I guess there are no sacred songs anymore.

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