Sometimes I mourn the simple things-- the things that I miss from the old days. For example, I mourn that your kids may never enter a record store -- ever.
My boys will -- I’ll make sure of that. Music has been an enormous part of my life from when I was just a baby, and one of my favorite things to do was to browse the aisles of a record store for hours, discovering artists and inspiration from the most unusual of sources. I used to buy records based on the recommendations of friends, or articles and reviews I read -- or, on occasion, just because I liked the cover art. For better or for worse, that kind of intimate, personal experience is long forgotten because of digital (at the very least it is rarely a personal experience, more for the mass of bloggers who proclaim to be experts in new music). You can still get reviews, but the tangible quality of a record store is almost forever lost.
Of course I feel like a hypocrite because I also love digital music. It’s easier to get, easier to store, and easier to share. I discover music these days in an even easier way, from the comfort of my living room, but it’s still not the same as the smell of vinyl and paper that washes over you when you walk into Amoeba Records in San Francisco or Generation Records in New York. I used to spend hours each week just trolling the new releases and the historicals to unearth some treasured artifact that would give my ears a taste of something they were missing.
When I was a kid, I used to sit for hours reading the liner notes of albums that my parents had collected. I still remember three of the most influential albums in that collection; “Sgt. Pepper,” “Zeppelin II” and “Sticky Fingers,” by the Stones. Those are three examples of records as art, not just the music, but the 100% delivery from cover all the way through. They were the kinds of albums you’ll never see again. You may hear them, but you’ll never see them.
If Steve Jobs were still with us, I think he would be plotting a way to bring the album back. He may have pioneered the wave of digital music with the iPod, but I bet he still would have loved to find a way to recreate the physical record store at some point.
If not Steve, then maybe one of you will figure it out. Maybe you can find a way to revolutionize the delivery of the music in the digital age. Artists like Radiohead keep trying by delivering the digital at one stage, followed by the collectible closely behind. The buzzword of the day is “Deluxe Edition,” which translates to overpriced, over-stuffed packages of extras that may add or detract from the music.
These packages are for the collectors and the diehards, the true fans. What about the casual observer? How are bands going to attract the new fan? The one who would have taken a flyer on them because the cover art spoke to them or because they “sound like” someone they know and appreciate? Maybe digital does deliver that audience, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the tangible experience of music is gone from the album, and has settled in the live show. Maybe what Prince does is right: give your albums away to ticket buyers, or even newspaper buyers. Flood the market with free albums, in hopes that your live shows will become the preferred experience. That may work, but not for everyone. I love live music more than the next guy, but I can’t go to every show anymore – there’s simply not enough time in the week!
I don’t know what the answer is, and after reading this you may not even be certain of the question, but what I know is that when my boys are old enough, they will be going with me to a record store. They may not know why, and they may not know what to do when we get there, but they’ll figure it out. I’ll be sure to show them.