Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nurse the Hate: The Record Collection Quandry

I was scoffed at earlier today for refusing to get on board with Spotify and instead continue on with my outdated 160G iPod.  I have a variety of reasons for staying the course with this system, most of which are probably rooted in ignorance or refusal to change.  I'm not saying it got heated, but at one point I was referred to as a "Luddite", which seemed a bit strong.  It's not like I'm a filthy caveman over here.  I think I just failed to properly explain my position, though I am becoming more of a technology laggard with each passing day.  I'm at over 36,000 songs, so something is going to have to give.  I am going to need a solution, but I am paralyzed by fear of making the wrong choice.  Spotify, I know, is the wrong choice for me.

There was once a time when a bond was forged by checking out someone’s LP collection.  This now sounds as outdated as going to a woman’s parlor and showing her your etchings, but I assure you such a time existed.  There was once a time when everything wasn’t a mouse click away.  I vividly remember reading about records from bands in Europe that were like our version of buried treasure.  A Cramps LP with 4 cuts not available in America would be talked about like sailors speaking of mermaids.  You knew what it looked like, but doubted you would ever personally see it with your own eyes.  Then word got around about a new guy in town with a killer record collection.  “Hey man…  Who knows this guy?  Jimmy?  You think he could get us in there?”  Cut to three dudes standing in front of some other dude’s apartment with a flimsy excuse to get inside and pour over stacks of records like hungry jackals.  Meanwhile the guy with the records would be watching everyone carefully noting key details as records were pulled from stacks with a mix of pride and concern for his precious albums.  “That’s the red vinyl first pressing.  Australian.”

I remember in college when a girl from my marketing class notched herself up several notches in my eyes when I discovered hidden in in her obligatory “Bob Marley Legend”, “Psychadelic Furs Talk Talk Talk” and “The Cure, The Singles” records was a decently worn copy of X’s “Big Black Sun”.  Well, hello Dawn!  This proved to be fool’s gold though as I later discovered this LP was an ex-boyfriend’s and her taste was much closer to the New Order/Cocteau Twins flavor that dominated the stacks.  Our dalliance was brief, but her ex-boyfriend turned out to be a cool guy that turned me on to the Lime Spiders.  I let him know Dawn still had his X record.  He swung by and picked it up while our group was working on our semester project.  We exchanged that all knowing nod as he left with it under his arm.  Dawn was a very nice woman, but c'mon.  That was his X record.  I had to nark. 

While Spotify no doubt provides staggering access to music, it’s an illusion.  Because it’s all there, none of it is “yours”.  I think when you purchase music, you have thrown in with the band.  Besides the obvious benefit of supporting the actual people that have made this art financially, it also means you have stake in the game.  A purchase says “I’m into them” much more than a click on a page.  If I purchased records from a band when I was 15, I still feel a sense of allegiance with that band.  I might not have listened to Iron Maiden since I was a kid, but we’re all on the same team since I still have those records somewhere in the overwhelming stacks of music in various formats which dominate my home.  I am, if nothing else, very loyal.

The mouse click world of today means everyone has an attention span of 13 seconds.  People can't even wait to get to the hook of a song if it takes a moment to develop.  Unfortunately, some records require time to grow on you.  There is patience required to listening to them a few times before the lightbulb will (or won't) go off for the listener.  A great example of that for me is the music of Big Star.  I had read the praises of "#1 Record" for years, but it always just seemed like a different version of The Raspberries to me.  I bought it, listened to it a few times, and wondered "what the hell is the fuss about?".  It sat on my shelf for a decade.  Once in awhile a song would rotate through on a iPod shuffle.  Then I heard a live version of "Thirteen" and a bell went "ding!".  I listen to those Big Star records every week now and have been buying my way through the Alex Chilton solo work.  I am on board in a way I never would be if I clicked something as a "playlist" or "favorite".  I'm engaged by the work.  A chocolate isn't special if you have a mountain of them.  It becomes special when it is a unique thing wrapped in a box just for you.  This one individual piece of candy that is just for you is much more memorable than if you have a mountain of chocolates stacked to the ceiling that you can eat one after the other.  You appreciate it because it is rare, special, and places you in that moment.

Some things aren't better through technology.  I still write notes on paper.  I still believe the letter to be the most impactful form of communication.  I still like to buy CDs and LPs because I want the artist to at least have a chance at getting some money.  I like to look at the cover, read the notes to find out who engineered it, where it was mastered.  That matters to me.  Maybe I'm a sucker because I still buy actual books, but I like the way the pages smell.  I like the feel of something tangible in my hand.  I like to know that my copy of Ginsberg's "Howl" actually came from City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, like it makes the words more alive somehow.  Would disc number 9 of Der Rings Des Nibelungen make me feel less melancholy if it was from The Cloud?  Probably.  And I bet Wagner isn't getting paid by Spotify either.  I know the Whiskey Daredevils aren't.       


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