The Shuffle of Destiny

It’s been a lot of years since I regularly used the shuffle feature when listening to music. I know some people still do this, and it seems likely that I’ll get some vehement pushback from enthusiastic present-day shufflers, but we all know Peak Shuffle happened years ago. Streaming radio services, however carefully curated by you, do not count.

I’m talking pre-smartphone, when all of us were using mp3 players. Hell, I’m even talking about before that, talking about Windows Media Player and Winamp playlists days long, filled with endless torrented albums, and then set to shuffle. We have nothing like this today. In fact, while I can’t prove it – not by a long stretch – I actually believe the logic behind our existing (and often unused) shuffle capabilities today has declined dramatically in quality and sophistication.

During these halcyon (lol) days of youth, I actually approached The Shuffle as a kind of crude divinatory practice, even though I didn’t call it that at a time. That’s what it was, though. The bigger the playlist, the more divinatory the practice could be. The idea is simple – set it to shuffle and, though you may have to skip forward a couple of times, The Shuffle is going to play the song you need to hear. The Shuffle would present me with a clear message through song.

This was particularly significant for me given the fact that I would often listen to these long shuffle playlists while grappling with the uncertainties and inadequacies and disappointments and losses of young adulthood. Taking long walks, driving aimlessly, alone, for hours, I’d set it to shuffle and hear what I needed to hear. The more receptive I was to this concept, the better messages I could receive. Shit would even freak me out sometimes, when The Shuffle would just happen to bring me, out of 3,548 songs, the one that was clearly most relevant to the situation at hand. It would blow my mind.

I know how stupid that sounds and I don’t care – there’s nothing substantively different between what I am describing and more traditional divinatory methods, other than its crudeness. Divination is the presentation of symbols and/or patterns on a randomized basis in such a way as to convey meaning and understanding. The Ancients (or even those from the distant time of The Seventies and Eighties) could not have prescribed this method for grasping the universe and making the best possible decisions and holding the highest perspective because they had no concept of what shuffled music was!

I feel a small measure of shame in admitting that I hardly ever even recall this phenomenon, what was once such a big part of my life and growth. The ways I tend to listen to music today, some more general and some more precise, can’t manage to accomplish what the Shuffle of Destiny once did, but they do succeed at making us all forget.

Fortunately I – and you and any of us – can still employ this method, even if it’s not as pure and delightfully advanced as it once was. I did it at least once over the last couple of weeks, as I dealt with my funny-but-not-funny bullshit crisis, and I’m happy to report it still works.

Just a simple version of its former glory, but moving and profound to experience nonetheless. I’ve got a little over a hundred Jerry Garcia Band songs downloaded onto my phone, still getting decently heavy rotation for me but mostly leftover from the annual heavy JGB listening associated with the month of August. I flipped to all tracks and hit shuffle, just as I was cruising over Temple Mountain, looking over at – appropriately enough – Monadnock owning the horizon beyond, and the song you see above began to play.

Armstrong’s original, and nearly any cover, represents one of the only songs I can think of that is pretty much guaranteed to make me cry every time. Every time. If you’re sitting next to me and this song comes on and I notice it, I will cry – I probably won’t look like I am crying, but I am crying. I’m sure there are some who find this cheesy, but the simplicity of the lyrics underscore how true they are. Read them. “I hear babies cry and watch them grow; they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know” – all the lyrics of this song get me, but this one, for some reason, more than the rest. I’m tearing up right now even as I type this, and the song is not even playing.

Through the Shuffle of Destiny, in the midst of pretty significant personal turmoil, the universe wanted to remind me that all of this is perfect and beautiful.

Message received.


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