Thursday, October 8, 2009
The Day the Music Died?
I've experienced a strange concurrence of musical and cultural events lately that I'm still trying to come to peace with. Perhaps writing about it will.
Recently my wife and I were cleaning our basement. Spying my uncle's stereo, I impulsively decided to get it repaired and take it to my classroom. So I lugged the behemoth to THE store for stereo repairs (Audio Lab in Harvard Square) and, since the cost of the repair wasn't bad, went ahead with the deal.
I was all set afterwards to play my vinyl as I worked in my classroom, but I discovered I needed speaker wire. It necessitated a 20 minute or so drive north to a place called U Do It Electronics. What an anachronism! From its 1960s signage clearly visible from Route 128 to its salesmen in their shirts and ties, this store is a wonder. Aisles and aisles of cables and electronic gizmoes. How reassuring to know that my past is still alive in more than just my head!
What makes this experience strange is that the whole time I'm going through it I'm wondering about what music and memories are worth. I'm acting my age, for sure, as I stay wedded to the physical reality of a recording. Why can't I just move on? If I need music, just go to Rhapsody and play it from my computer, or download the album from ITunes. Why do I still need to touch the record, and to open up the CD booklet?
I need to have booklet in my hand. I want to read the liner notes, look at who wrote the songs, and check out the personnel. I probably could get this information online, but it's just not the same. Does the fact that young people are getting their music delivered digitally these days mean that fewer of them are looking up the background that liner notes provide? Ah, probably not--if they love the band/singer, they'll read about them online and discover much more than liner notes.
Yes, I'm entering senior citizenville. I feel an overwhelming emptiness when I shopped recently at an area Borders. I walked through their aisles, and I could not feel any excitement. The front of the store was devoted to display upon display of vampire books (the Twilight tie-in). Forget about literature being proudly trumpeted! Their music department had shrunk to what seemed like 10% of the floor space. They no longer seemed interested in making it look attractive. I noticed that they weren't even carrying Barbra Streisand's new CD, of which much ado was made in The New York Times. C'mon--the senior set will be looking for their Babs in the brick and mortar!
It's tough sledding finding a "new release" these days. The only music stores with any vitality in my area are the Newbury Comics outlets and, given my pedantic tastes, it's a crap shoot whether or not they even have what I'm looking for. But at least they have aisle upon aisle of music, much of it shrink-wrapped and fresh. At least in these environments, and in stellar second-hand music shops like Planet Records (Harvard Square), I can still feel the love--and feel the comfort that there's still a place for people like me who like to acquire their music in this way.
But time's winged chariot is picking up speed. Our dour economy may deliver the knockout punch to these retail outlets. Probably for the best--it'll lower my carbon footprint, and Lord knows I have enough liner notes to reread!