I’ll admit it. I’m somewhat old fashioned — old school if you will. I use my cellphone mainly for… well, phone calls. Sure, I know how to text, take pictures and email, but most of what my phone is capable of doing is well beyond my ability to comprehend. I guess that’s why they call it a “smartphone,” which, of course, makes me feel like a “dumb guy.” I prefer to watch television shows on a large screen TV, not on my phone. I like reading a book, not a computer or an I-pad that prevents me from actually flipping the page. And, most importantly, I like my music in physical form, not on a stream or a cloud or on Spotify where I’m simply sampling as opposed to selecting… and committing. In my world, streams are for wading, clouds are for gazing and songs aren’t samples, but part of a physical whole.
As far as I’m concerned, albums are meant to be a collection of songs carefully sequenced and arranged to fit together as a conceptual piece of work. I can’t imagine what Sgt. Pepper or the Who’s Tommy would be like if presented as unrelated pieces of music floating in the ether, offered individually without any context or concept that ties the music together. And what about the artwork, the list of credits, or, in special cases, a lyric sheet that allows the listener to ruminate of the music’s deeper meaning, craft, and concept?
There was a time when those of us of a certain generation would hotly anticipate a new album by the Beatles, the Stones or whoever else we happened to obsess over at the time. It was a physical offering, something that not only offered new sounds but also gave the opportunity to study and ruminate over every mesmerizing and meticulous additive, illustration, and insight. The album was a calling card, something tangible that could be held, fondled, and proudly set on a shelf along with other gems that encompassed what we once proudly designated as a “music library,” a repository of great music that accompanied life’s transitions, both good and bad, in times that were both happy and heartbreaking. It represented a special place in an ongoing trajectory and provided the soundtrack for one’s youth and well beyond.
Sadly, some of the powers-that-be in the now-defunct music industry decided that the CD ought to be made obsolete, confined to the same fate once accorded reel-to-reel tapes, 8 tracks, cassettes, and vinyl. Computers no longer come equipped with burners, cars are sold sans CD players, and publicists and pundits insist that no one wants physical discs anymore and that streams and downloads are the formats that everybody prefers. Translation: if young people opt for it, only old out-of-touch seniors ask for discs.
Of course, these are the same so-called experts who decreed that those aforementioned musical formats were no longer worthy of consumption and ought to be relegated to the same trash heap of outmoded consumerism as hula hoops, GI Joes and Pong. Yet, there are still those that hold those commodities as dear. Granted, they’re out of the mainstream, but doesn’t every river have tributaries worth exploring?
Besides, consider the comeback that vinyl, and even cassettes, have made, each an entity that was resurrected from irrelevance and given new life by those who refused to declare them dead?
So let me repeat — I consider music to be part of a total package, a physical manifestation of creativity and craft, something to admire, enjoy and ponder in the real world, not simply an object confined to cyberspace.
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As a collector and an advocate — one who writes about music and musicians for any number of reasons —, I aim to bring those entities due recognition and, perhaps selfishly, to grow my music collection. I frequently advise artists who may be on the proverbial fence about whether or not to release their music in a physical form not to devalue and debase their efforts by relegating it to cyberspace, or wherever those streaming platforms happen to be found. And if they can’t understand the value in that, well, suffice it to say, this writer will respond with even less enthusiasm than any sunbather would likely give the aforementioned haberdasher at said nude beach.
So let’s go back to the big picture. How would music have evolved if not for the 78, the 45, the LP, and yes, for the past 40 years or so, the now-debased CD? Can popular music continue its trajectory if it exists without context, connection, or a place in the physical world? I would argue no. Creativity has to be represented in a real way. Imagine a world without museums to showcase great art, libraries to house great literature, film archives to remind us of classic cinema? Shouldn’t recorded music be given the same representation?
Frankly, I can’t imagine a world where the answer to that question is simply no.
Image by Alan Levine, via Wikimedia Commons