Thursday, March 3, 2011

One Music Geek's Manifesto

Note: This is the introduction I'd written when I'd intended to start a music-only blog.  Even though this blog evolved into more than that, I still think this gives you a good idea of where my music writing is coming from.


I miss a lot of things about record store culture…

The thrill of the hunt is one thing that the digital frontier hasn’t found a way to successfully replicate.  Spending an afternoon wandering around Greenwich Village’s former abundance of record stores was one of the true pleasures in my life: sometimes, it was a death-or-glory quest for a particular release, sometimes there was no agenda at all save to come away with something fresh for the stereo.  The better stores were both Mecca and haven: cramped spaces filled with unheard tunes and like-minded, colorful individuals.  The thrill – or disgust – at hearing something playing overhead that truly made an impression, and the random buck-or-two pickups because the cover looked cool, or I’d read something good about it somewhere along the way, were truly analog thrills.  Sure, you could put your faith in what, say, iTunes’ Genius app thinks you might like, or you can download at random and never look back, but it’s just not quite the same as the vaguely-structured randomness of some dingy store.

…but not everything about it.

The unwashed, obnoxious cousin of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy whose raison d’être it is to tell you that everything you like sucks this week, and his barely-alive junk-addled friend?  Glad to see ‘em go.  Hideously-overpriced “rarities” up on the wall to sucker in the tourists and the beyond-help collectors?  Glad they’re collecting dust in a storage space somewhere.

MP3 and “free”/”illegal” downloading isn’t the future.  It’s the present…

Both the RIAA and the “lossless or bust” audiophiles can argue and stick their respective heads in the sand for as long as they want: the revolution has well and truly passed them by.  In the case of the RIAA, it’s their own damn fault: while peer-to-peer sharing was certainly the catalyst that sped their demise, the stage was set for it by the preceding decades of overpriced, shabby products, particularly in the CD era.  Two decades of charging nearly $20 per disc for singles-plus-unlistenable-filler albums and pointless reissues have every bit as much to do with the music industry’s downfall as those damn kids and their Napster.

…and the present is a very exciting place for someone who likes music to live.

Unlimited access to nearly everything I’ve always wanted to hear, without having to fork over the rent money to a record store or an eBay seller for the privilege?  Yes please and thank you.  Likewise, the advent of the iPod and similar devices is the single greatest thing to ever happen to portable music.  No more lugging around CD’s and cassettes, no more fragile portable disc players, no more tape-chewing Walkmans.  Just all the music you could possibly want to hear for the day (or week, or month, or year), all contained in a device roughly the size of a single cassette tape case – and all with a quality loss from physical media that’s practically imperceptible to anyone who’s not listening super-closely for it (and probably not really even then).  There is simply no rational reason to be nostalgic for anything that came before.

I like vinyl for what it is…

It’s cool looking, fun to collect, and has a faint whiff of history to it.  Until the hipsters and audiophiles descended upon it and declared it the future (again), it was also generally inexpensive.  It’s fun to look at, fun to flip through, and if you’re the type of music geek who gets off on liner notes and such, it’s clearly your best bet.  Personally, I also dig the sound of it.  This may have a lot to do with age: I’m 36, and got into music in the tail end of the vinyl era; as such, the first music I got to know and love was heard in the format.  I have no interest in whether it’s technically “better than CD” or not, and have neither the finances nor the inclination to acquire the type of gear one might need to figure it out.

…but audiophilia is for the birds.

I like music.  All of the gear that I own to play it on is modest at best: low-rent, sure, but sounds good to me.  It’s all I need.  When doing research prior to beginning this blog, I was stunned at how many aging boomers with equipment fetishes I encountered on other sites.  Did you ever wonder who actually buys those $30 “gold CD” pressings?  Now you know.  People whose stereo systems cost more than many starter homes simply do not like music.  They like gear.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it sure would be nice of them to admit it to themselves.  If you’d rather spend $10,000 on a cartridge for your turntable than on $10,000 more of music, well…suffice it to say you are most likely reading the wrong blog.

Age ain’t nothing but a number…

I referred to “boomers” in the last paragraph, and that probably sounded a little more snide and ageist than I meant it to.  Rest assured: I mentioned boomers because that’s who these stuck-up audiophiles generally are.  (Also, they’re always men.  Draw your own conclusions.)  Actually, the truth is that I like an awful lot of bands composed of boomers.  The idea that you can somehow chronologically age out of rock ‘n’ roll is idiotic.  There are classic rock acts who’ve managed to retain their fire and creativity decade-in and decade-out, and there are indie-hipster favorites who’ve been boring since the moment the starter pistol sounded.  The chronological age of the members of the respective bands is unimportant: it’s what they do with their instruments.

…and there ain’t no golden era, either.

The interweb is rife with music critics/bloggers/forum posters who allege that a certain decade constitutes a “golden era” for rock ‘n’ roll.  You know, back when music was real, and not all a corporate put-on like it is now, what with these kids today.  This entire concept is absolute nonsense: sure, we all have a point in our lives where music was HUGE for us, and it’s natural for us to throw on the old rose-tinted Ray-Bans when looking back on it.  For most, it’s probably the music that surrounded us in our late teens and early twenties.  Looking at my own CD shelves, it’s easy for me to wax nostalgic and think “wow, there was so much great music in the mid-to-late nineties.”  A few hours later, I’ll find myself on line at the grocery store and that stupid “Barbie Girl” song or something similarly awful will come on the overhead, and I’ll be snapped back to reality: “Oh, yeah, but there was this crap, too.”  The truth is simple, folks: there is always great music, and there is always pabulum.  Always has been, always will be.  The kids today have it just fine, thank you.

Forget what anyone else says.  Use your ears.

And that includes me.  Obviously, it’s fun to talk/argue about music; it it weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it.  There is more music than ever in the world right now, and it’s all more accessible than it’s ever been in the past.  Dive in and enjoy – and be sure to listen with your ears wide open, hoping for greatness rather than rooting for garbage.  You’ll live longer and better if you do – trust me on that.

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