Well, folks. I’ve done the unthinkable. I’ve sold out to the man. I am to this blog what Dylan was to his surprisingly narrow-minded folky fans at Newport 1965. I’m now the owner of an iPod Nano. See, I thought I could resist the movement forever. But then, while packing up for winter break at the very last minute, it occurred to me: man, I have a whole heck of a lot of CDs that I couldn’t bear parting with even for a month (regardless of whether I actually played a single one of them over break is a different matter altogether). And much as I love my vast and eclectic CD collection, it sure is a pain in the butt to have to transport it back and forth between home and school. To make a long story short, I decided to swallow years’ worth of my technophobic pride and buy myself one of them new-fangled music machines. This is not to say I’ve given up on all other formats of music (in fact, just earlier this week I was at f.y.e. splurging an obscene amount of holiday gift card credit — and then some — on CDs), nor that I’ve gained much more trust in technology. But let’s face it — it’s so much easier to move your music collection from one location to another when it doesn’t weigh half as much as you do.
“…And humble pie is always hard to swallow with your pride.” Or something to that effect. January 21, 2010
Please, Sister Vinyl, Turn My Nightmares into Dreams… April 18, 2009
I might as well come out and say it, before it’s too late. Before the day comes when someone walks in and finds my cold lifeless body sprawled out on the floor, one futile hand reaching towards the needle. No, not the kind that administers drugs; I’m clean as a whistle in that respect. It’s the phonograph needle I’ll die reaching for. I can deny it no longer: I am a vinyl junkie.
What is it about this long-outmoded music format that makes me and countless others continue to value it so highly? I know some denouncers of MP3s and CDs who claim that some of the more subtle nuances in recordings are lost when converted to a digital format, and others say that digital music deteriorates over time and vinyl is much longer lasting. I don’t know how true these claims are, but if you ask me, what makes vinyl so appealing is its grainy, imperfect quality, which all other formats have succeeded in eradicating. As someone raised on cassettes and CDs, when I first expressed my interest in listening to vinyl, I was warned that the hisses and pops and occasional skips might take some getting used to. However, not only do these noises (besides the skips; they’re a real pain, and apparently nothing can be done about them) not bother me, but they actually enhance my listening experience by giving the music more of a personality. Recordings on MP3s and CDs sound consistently pristine (as long as the CD is kept safe from scratches and excessive fingerprints). It doesn’t matter how chaotic the music itself may be, every time you listen to a CD or MP3 recording of that song, it will still give you the same chaotic sound in perfect clarity. Vinyl is so much more personal. A record will not only play music just fine (as long as you maintain it well, as luckily my parents did, since at least 80% of my record collection is inherited from them), but those little snap-crackle-pops give it a nice organic quality, putting the music and the listener on the same plane. Listening to digital music is like being in the presence of a god, or some higher authority that I could never hope to achieve the status of. Which can be nice every now and then, but soon I start craving the company of something more approachable. Listening to vinyl is like being with an old friend, or some much-loved older relative that I can aspire to emulate some day. At the risk of sounding ridiculous for personifying a large hunk of plastic so, vinyl just seems so much friendlier than CDs or MP3s.
As mentioned in last month’s rant on iTunes, an album’s packaging can often add to its appeal. And when it comes to superb packaging, vinyl just can’t be beat. The size of vinyl albums allows for bigger and more detailed album art, and more room in the sleeve for freebies (the posters can be larger, and if you’re Alice Cooper and want to include a pair of frilly panties with every copy of your album, there’s plenty of room. No, seriously, Alice Cooper really did that back in the early ’70s). The sturdy, yet flexible cardboard structure of the record sleeve could even allow for artistic creativity that wouldn’t work with any other format’s packaging. The sleeve of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers vinyl album has a working zipper attached to it (which, by the way, I could entertain myself for hours playing with. Hey, I’m easily amused). You can’t put a zipper on a jewel case (too stiff), or the front of a CD insert (too flimsy, and the zipper would could scratch the inside of the case, if you could even get it to fit inside the case), so a great deal of the album cover’s creativity was lost when the CD came out and they replaced the (un)zippable cardboard jeans with a boring flat version of the photograph, and — in an incredible lasp of judgement — put the previously underlying photo of a briefs-clad (and clearly stimulated) crotch on the back of the album, in plain sight of any unsuspecting child or sheltered teen (as I was at the time) who just wants to see the track listing and find out what track number “Sister Morphine” is (okay, I don’t know why an innocent kid or sheltered teen would be interested in hearing “Sister Morphine”. Maybe I should have suggested “Bitch” instead?). Another example of artistic brilliance in the album sleeve medium is Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick (which is in itself an example of musical brilliance: a 43-minute-long album consisting of a single song that’s epic in every sense of the word). The front cover looks like the front page of a newspaper, and upon unfolding the sleeve, one finds several pages of phony newspaper stories. It even folds and unfolds at the bottom, just as newspaper is often folded. This could be converted to a CD insert easier than the Sticky Fingers zipper could. But as an insert, it would be hard to read and probably couldn’t be folded at the bottom (which would probably result in the bottom portion of each page being cut off). In addition, part of the resemblance to an actual newspaper depended on the fact that album sleeves are roughly the same size as the average newspaper page.
Anyway, I’ve been wanting to post about my love for vinyl for a long time, believe me. But I thought today would be the perfect day for it, as I just found out a few days ago that today is something called Record Store Day (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; this is apparently only the second annual Record Store Day), a celebration held on the second Saturday of April every year (since last year, anyway) at various independent record stores all over this country and in several other countries, and promoted and celebrated by musicians who still believe in the power of vinyl (or at least the cause of physical, store-bought music, as opposed to music bought on the internet). There are artists putting out limited edition records and CDs especially to be sold at select record stores on this day and there’s musicians showing up at record stores that they probably wouldn’t be caught dead at any other day (not necessarily out of snobbery; the risk of being recognized and subsequently harassed is too great for most artists to walk right into some little record store any ol’ day of the week), some even playing concerts. And, as if he wasn’t already the biggest multitasker in today’s music industry, Jack White chose today to open up his own Nashville-based record store, Third Man Records, which sounds to me like the closest equivalent this generation has to The Beatles’ Apple Boutique (although hopefully White’s plans for Third Man Records won’t go sour prematurely. But since he’s not a quartet of worn-out drug-addled hippies, the odds are in his favor). So, if you’re as big a vinyl enthusiast as I am (or even half the vinyl enthusiast I am), go out and support your local record store today, if you can. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to, being stuck at college with limited transportation, but had the good fortune of sparking a friend’s interest in the event. And, since this friend has a car, I no longer have to settle for staying in my room listening to vinyl albums all day. Not that that’s a bad way to spend the day.
Why Downloadable Music is Ruining My Life March 18, 2009
On Sunday I went to BJ’s with my parents, mostly to get out of the house. As usual, I made a beeline for the section that sells entertainment (books, DVDs, CDs, etc.) I scrutinized the book section without finding anything worth getting, briefly skimmed the DVD selection, and then- wait a minute! Where the heck are the CDs?! I ran around the general area looking for the CD section with no luck, until I ran into my parents. My mom said that she thought she saw some music stuff near the entrance of the store. So I went near the entrance, and sure enough, I found plenty of music-related equipment…BUT STILL NO CDS! It’s not that I really expected the place to sell anything I was interested in getting; I just wanted to see what they had. But I couldn’t find anything, and the apparent lack of CDs perplexed me until I noticed how many iPod-related items the store was selling. And then I realized: CDs are losing money now that iTunes has become the people’s musical overlords, and BJ’s must have stopped selling CDs because they’re no longer profitable to sell. But that’s no excuse! What about ornery little neophobes like me who still refuse to convert to iTunes? Doesn’t anyone care about us anymore?
Let me tell you why I’m so resistant to the iTunes phenomenon. First off, I have a large collection of CDs that I’ve spent years and lots of hard-earned allowance money compiling (okay, okay…so some of the CDs were gifts, and some aren’t technically mine, but my parents’. But I’ve still spent a lot of money on CDs). I’m not willing to abandon all the CDs that I’ve come to treasure just because there’s a new way to listen to music. My CD player still works fine after all these years. I’m not willing to spend $100+ on the latest music-playing device, especially when I know the one I buy now will soon be replaced by a newer and more spiffy model. I’m not willing to spend all that extra time getting the songs I already have on CD onto my new iPod. And besides all that, you don’t get album art with iTunes. You might get a microscopic picture of the album cover next to the song title on the iPod screen, but that’s it. And let’s not forget those booklets that come in CD cases! Whenever I get a new CD, the first thing I do is look at the insert. Sometimes, it’s just a single square sheet of paper with the album cover on the front and nothing more than the track listing on the back (BORING!), but many CD inserts include several pages of song lyrics, some pictures of the artist/band, and/or information on who plays what instrument, who wrote the songs, etc. And every now and then, I come across an album with something very special placed within its plastic or cardboard casing. For example, when I bought T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior” on CD, it came with a free poster tucked into its case (not that I expect many Americans and/or people my age to know who T. Rex were. And until I get around to devoting an entire post to the glam rock movement of the 1970s which T. Rex were the founders of, just trust me that it was a joy to have the late and great Marc Bolan and his halo of corkscrew hair gracing my dorm room wall last year). The insert that comes with The Raconteurs’ “Consolers of the Lonely” is chock full of goodies, such as a weird picture of each member of the band, as well as equally weird credits (Jack White is shown as a mad scientist in a skeleton suit; Patrick Keeler is credited to play “drums and repercussions”). The CD for Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A-Changin'” comes with a 10-page insert filled with 11 free-form poems written by Dylan. You don’t get this stuff with iTunes. Also, one of the joys of CD buying is not knowing every song that I’m getting. I like getting albums that I know only a few songs on. That way, I can discover new songs and at least have the certainty of liking the handful of songs that I already know.
I’m not saying iPods don’t have their advantages, but none of those advantages have yet convinced me to give up on CDs and other “archaic” forms of music media (i.e. vinyl. Much as I’ve been championing the cause of CDs, they are but a trifle compared to sweet sweet vinyl). But I think I’ve done enough ranting about downloadable music. For now, anyway.