Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Defense Of The Tangible

 I love technology. I love my iPhone, my Mac, my Kindle, my iPod, etc. I believe that technology is our friend. I’m all “big screen TV’s and wireless guitars!” That being said, this blog is in defense of the “old school”. I recently read an interview with Jon Bon Jovi, in which he was lamenting the seeming replacement of the physical album or CD with MP3’s or Wav's. He blamed Steve Jobs personally, which I don’t really agree with, but much of the interview felt right to me. I reposted the article on my facebook and got some interesting responses. It made me think about my own feelings concerning this topic, which in my line of work is kind of important!
 When I was growing up, (in olden times) music was on albums (33 1/3 baby!!), then we got 8-track tapes (horrible) and then cassettes (ehh), then the glorious CD! Yes, an indestructible, last forever format; except it’s not. They scratch, have a shelf life, and you can break them. Still it was the last physical format to come along before the age of 1’s and 0’s. When MP3’s became the thing, it wasn’t the sound quality that bothered me as much as the physical “not being able to hold something” feeling. My high-school years (my truly formative music listening years) were spent listening to most of my music while driving in my truck, cruising up and down the streets of my hometown, on a really crappy car stereo with a graphic equalizer that did little more than add too much treble, bass and volume. In other words, sound quality was not really a major issue for me at the time. Even now, as I write this, I’m listening to music (Lucinda Williams / Blessed) on desktop computer speakers...sounds fine to me:). A lot of my favorite stuff isn't really “audio-phile” type stuff anyway, I’ve been listening recently to Robert Johnson, not exactly pristine recordings (some things even technology can’t do yet!)!
 When I first heard Jimi Hendrix, it was important that I saw a picture of him. It was important to read the liner notes and see where the music was recorded, who else played on it, when was it recorded, etc. I learned as much about music from reading my CD’s as from listening to them. I learned about Guitar Slim in the liner notes of a Stevie Ray Vaughan, CD. I found out about Earl Hooker from Buddy Guy, but I learned more about his discography from liner notes on Muddy Waters records, etc. I can’t overstate the importance of that source of information and knowledge when learning about music. There IS a reason why there’s a Grammy category for liner notes! 
 When I first started exploring iTunes I was excited about the “compactness” of it; I can carry my entire record collection with me everywhere on a device roughly the size of a deck of cards. That’s awesome! When I started touring, I carried a little CD player and 3 BIG albums of CDs! Very cumbersome!! Once the newness of iTunes wore off and it became a regular part of my day, the limitations started to reveal themselves. Especially after my first hard drive crash that lost my entire iTunes library! 4,450 albums...GONE! That’s a great, (albeit painful) wake up call! I’ve had a couple of crashes and ‘losses’ since then and it sent me scurrying back to my local record store (Grimey’s in Nashville) and made me appreciate, again, the feeling of tearing the plastic off of a new resource and a new friend. 
 I believe in the ability of humans to assimilate new technology and refine it over time. I think that’s what will happen to recorded music; it’s great to have MP3’s, it’s great to have iTunes and be able to buy a song while driving down the interstate at 3:00am (yes, I have done that for some of the most random songs you can imagine!) but I don’t believe 1’s and 0’s will ever fully replace the physical recorded work any more than I believe that texting will ever fully do away with face to face conversation (although it is very handy!!) Buddy used to tell me; “just because something is new doesn’t make it better.” I agree with that.

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