NYCD: The Blog

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

THE PASSION OF THE CRANKS

Back in the days when music was something that was only available in physical form, Sal and I would ogle whatever new releases or used CDs came into NYCD and say "That's mine, I'm taking it home." (Hey, why do you think we got into music retail in the first place? So we could get first dibs on all the discs that came in.) Nowadays, rarely a day goes by that I don't hear my partner talking about how he goes to bit torrent sites to "grab" live shows by his favorite bands and "throw them on iTunes."

Those phrases are telling. Music has gone from something we "take home" -- shepherding it into our inner sanctums, in a sense adopting it into our lives -- to something we "grab and throw." Violent words. We could do the same thing with a ball, or a toy, or a piece of trash. And that, I think, is what the digital revolution has wrought. We're becoming less music collectors than music accumulators. The question is, is this a good thing?

On one level, of course it is. Having more music than ever before at our fingertips, at a lower cost than ever before, and without the hassle of having to store it in physical form, is liberating. A friend of ours is burning us 34 hours of Bob Dylan's radio show. God knows when we'll ever find the time or the inclination to listen to all 34 hours, but it doesn't matter. If it's next week or 40 years from now, the shows will be on our hard drives, waiting for us. And that's pretty cool.

On another level, though, having unlimited access to cheap music... well, cheapens the music.

The records that stick in my head the most are the ones I bought when I was eight or nine years old, when I had to save my allowance for a couple of weeks so I could go to King Karol or Woolworth's and buy one record. And I would listen to that record dozens, even hundreds of times. So I would have to carefully choose which record to get, because a dud would mean I'd wasted my six or seven bucks AND two or three weeks of my time and energy, which I invested in learning that record note for note. As a result, I'm still sick of Blondie's "Parallel Lines" 25 years after I last heard it, because I played the damn thing so much in fourth grade. But I still probably know it better than I know my favorite record of, say, 2004, which is... um... what was it again?

Now, I'm not saying that we should have to fork over a week's salary for a CD (the major labels already tried that in the late '90s) and force ourselves to listen to it 500 times. But there's also something to be said for a music collection that's really a collection, rather than a bunch of stuff you've burned from friends or downloaded from eMusic and plan to listen to eventually, if you even remember you've got it on your hard drive.

Maybe I'm a reactionary, or a sentimentalist, or a businessman running scared. Or all of the above. But I think there's something to be said for having to put a little effort into finding music you can get passionate about. Because lately, it seems to me, a lot of people just don't have the passion they used to have for music. Don't get me wrong -- they probably listen to it as much as ever. They may "grab and throw" more music now than they ever "took home" before. But how much of it really grabs US? How often do we even listen to full albums anymore, let alone absorb them and let them affect us the way we used to?

Obviously, things will never go back to the way they were. There are too many casual music fans out there who are thrilled that they'll never have to go to a record store again, delighted that they can now buy one or two songs from iTunes rather than having to invest in a whole album's worth of music, overjoyed that they can free up all the shelf space that used to be taken up by records, tapes and CDs.

In the meantime, Sal and I still ogle the new releases and incoming used discs, and still take home a big pile of them every week, where we lovingly place them on our overcrowded CD shelves (for all his talk of grabbing and throwing live shows, there are few people who love CDs more than Sal). A lot of our regular customers still do the same thing. But how many of us are left, and for how long will we even be able to do so? For all that we've gained in the last few years, something important is being lost as well. Something that a lot of us may not even realize has been lost, until it's too late to do anything about it.

6 Comments:

Anonymous matthew said...

I think you've really put your finger on something here, Tony. We are losing that sense of the record album as a physical, hard-earned artifact that becomes part of our lives. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Paul McCartney's first solo album, "McCartney." Man, did I listen to that a lot; it's still my favorite McCartney album. I remember walking to my local Woolworth's circa 1974 to pay $4.67 for "Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield." When I was in high school, I listened to The Band's "Islands" every single day, for a whole semester. These days, I don't seem to get nearly as excited about new music, even though part of me can enjoy the latest White Stripes or Supergrass album. Part of the problem might be that some people (like me) seem to have a finite number of brain cells that can be devoted to musical discovery or musical excitement. Once these cells get filled up, so to speak, which usually happens at an early age, it's hard for new music heard at a later age to match that initial passion. I'm not sure what the answer really is. But I agree that something important has been lost in the digital music age -- and it's not completely attributable to the "old fogey" factor.

9:51 AM  
Blogger peter said...

i agree and all i could possibly add is Otis Blue, Wall's Music, Great Neck NY, summer 1966 the start of a long love affair. but hey let me add more. in the last year i backed off of my usual practice of going to nycd and scooping up helpings of new aluminum for my pleasure and business and bought far fewer aluminium discs. and in so doing i was forced to go back and listen to many of the cd's i had bought and never gotten around too or some that i had not listended to in years. it was a pleasure and led to my rediscovering some of my favorite music. one group that stands out is the j.geils band. hadn't listned to the first few albums in who knows how long and let me tell ya they beat the hell out of the gotan project. anyway i tend to ramble as always, great thread tony and i think you've hit on somethingh here. thanks again for being a jerkoff (better than a dead head). see ya soon
oh one last thing just cause you helped in my appreciation of the guy i've been listening to while typing this missive and that would be Mr. Sinatra Swing Easy & Songs for Young Lovers see it pays to go back into the collection. thank you

1:14 PM  
Blogger Michael in New York said...

Yeah yeah, you've got a point. But surely your point is as much about being a kid and the thrill of those first discoveries as it is about music being available on vinyl or CD or digital download. I bet you can remember and treasure the first few times you kissed or made out with someone a lot better than the last 100 times. Right? As for the sheer availability, did you ever go to a library as a kid? Every book in the world is available there for the asking -- does that cheapen the pleasure of reading "Treasure Island" or "Unbearable Lightness of Being" or the naughty bits from Judy Blume's "Forever" if you were a kid or henry Miller if you were older? No of course not. I can be OVERWHELMING, of course. With so much music to hear, with every music article linking to an artist's myspace page or providing streaming audio, people can graze so much they forget to sit down and listen to albums. But I remember people bemoaning how CDs simply didn't offer the tactile pleasure of LPs -- what was the joy in owning impersonal little discs that didn't even scratch and pop? Well, they were wrong. And more access to more music is nothing to fear. It makes your job as gatekeeper and guide to the cool stuff all the more precious and important. Besides, we're collectors. Almost no one EVER devotes as much time and energey to their collections as we do. Now about those Dylan shows....

6:12 PM  
Blogger NYCD Online said...

Michael, I absolutely agree with you that part of why I know every record I bought when I was nine, inside-out, is because I was nine. That's also why I can recite the starting lineup of the '77 Yankees, but I'd have trouble remembering last season's starting rotation. I disagree, however, with your impression that our role as gatekeepers to the good stuff has gotten more important. With the advent of the blogosphere, EVERYONE now fancies himself or herself a gatekeeper. We're all pundits and critics now. This is one of the perils of what I call "too much democracy." When the walls come down, the playing field is level, and Sal and I, who have worked in music retail all our lives, have little more of a voice than a blogger who owns three Dave Matthews discs and a "Hey, Remember The '80s?" compilation, how do you know who to listen to and who to trust? But that's the subject of a whole 'nuther blog. And as far as the collector's mentality is concerned, we treasure a lot of the discs that may not necessarily have our favorite music, but was the hardest to track down. Once everything is available easily and instantaneously, part of what makes us obsessive fans -- collectors, not accumulators -- goes out the window. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it's not. Again, it's a subject for another blog. But thanks to all for your thoughts and comments!

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Marco said...

If music is a drug, and your a junkie, does it really matter how or where you get it?
Another's passion will only interfere with yours, if you allow it to.
Some people buy a nickel bag at a time, other's buy an ounce.
It may be all they can afford.
All that matters is that you're gettin' high.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Charlie C. said...

I don't think I could stop buying cd's even if i wanted to. Not even sure why I buy them anymore. Love music, love acquiring 'things' even more. Makes me feel good which the digital domain does not. All is well and all is swell and all that but just having my own copy of something is, for me, the shit. The physical part is not the part it is the whole! Remember this -- which side of an album was better?!? The Satanic Majesties cover, Led Zep II with the wheelie thing. I Tunes is not going to give you that my friend.
Went to NYCD today (redhead not around, didn't stay) but I could NOT leave without 'placing an order' could not leave . . .
This says a whole lot more about me than The Music Industry Today but, that's what blog's (even someone else's) are for! Just catching up with the 'Cranks' so bear with me.

Charlie
167 movies on Netflix que
anything under $100 at B&N is considered 'browsing'

11:32 AM  

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