Some days I hear or read music news that makes me feel like Edmund, Lord Blackadder

Specifically in the context of the opening minute of this YouTube clip:

And more specifically his slow burn of frustration up to the point about 40 seconds into the clip where he says, “LOOK, cretins…”

My latest reaction along these lines was courtesy of a NY Times piece with the stunningly brilliant and utterly new observation “Hey gee, there sure are a lot of people who like vinyl out there.” (It’s become such a cliche that when I mentioned said phenomenon in passing in my Thursday post on single, album and Net sales, I did so under the full assumption that anyone interested in the general subject of music had already heard it plenty of times, and was likely very sick of it.) The article in question was linked over on ILM by Chuck E. with the preface, “How many times has this article been written in the past few months? (Gets dumber every time, I think.)” A follow-up comment ran, “Yeah, these articles keep treading over the same territory, but I never get tired of reading them … especially if they are so chock full of LOLs at the expense of corny indie types and clueless record execs.”

There’s plenty to pick apart in the piece that prompts such talk — a classic eyeroller being the amazingly hamhanded attempt to equate vinyl worship with going for local/organically grown food. (As a flagbearer for the latter several times over, I couldn’t even begin to imagining coming up with that comparison without the copious aid of drugs or money, or both.) The big winner, though, comes from someone who I recognize instinctively as a fellow denizen of my past life — the college-age music freak with a love for things indie or somesuch. Thus one James Acklin talking about bonding with a bright young lass over Broken Social Scene (of all bands! I guess the Arcade Fire would have been too obvious):

“There was this immediate mutual acknowledgment, like we both totally understood what we define ourselves by,” continued Mr. Acklin, who considers his turntable, a Technics model from the 1980s that belonged to an aunt, a prized possession. “It takes a special kind of person to appreciate pops and clicks and imperfections in their music.”

Needless to say it’s the latter quote, contemptuous and condescending, which brought the LOLs on the thread so far. Deservedly so, but let’s be fair to Acklin — years ago, John D. on ILM once described the genius of the first Christian Death album (overwrought, ridiculous, absolutely beautiful in its self-conscious extremity) as a classic example of the ‘dumb-blowtorch-of-youth’ syndrome. That sounds contemptuous and condescending in turn, but he meant it, rightly, from the point of view of self-recognition, that he’d been there as well and appreciated it for what it was, while not wanting to go back there. Acklin’s flash-of-pseudo-insight arrogance isn’t that far removed from plenty of sins we’ve all committed — and lord knows if I listed mine I’d be here forever (sure am glad I didn’t say something like THAT in the first two paragraphs of an NY Times thinkpiece when I was twenty, though — if he has a sense of humor about himself he’ll live with it).

That caveat said — such a stupid statement, and the cascade of similar sentiments, or at least parallel ones, building up throughout the article provoked my invocation of Blackadder there. You just can’t believe the willful ignorance at play sometimes, or the self-delusion, or more. Allowing for your own sins as always, as already noted, sometimes it’s just breathtaking.

For instance, let’s take this sentiment, which since it isn’t a direct quote leads me to wonder how much of this is a leap of interpretive faith by author Alex Williams:

Young vinyl collectors said digital technology had made it easy for anyone — even parents — to acquire vast, esoteric music collections. In that context, nothing seems hipper than old-fashioned inconvenience.

Hahah…no. This much more than whatever Acklin says is true arrogance, an amazing if utterly expected twist on the standard idea of obscurity equalling quality. It’s not enough now that you have something unique or obscure on vinyl as compared to all that nasty mass-market stuff out there — now that music’s around for everyone, you have to show you’ve sweated and somehow earned the right to enjoy music precisely because you had to scrounge for a physical manifestation of same. Confronted with a literalization of Marx’s dictum about all that was solid melting into air, solidity is now suddenly the most crucial thing about a release, its ‘realness’ as much as its ‘inconvenience.’

Thus, to follow that part I just quoted, in a truly dumb-blowtorch-of-youth move (but which also leads me to conclude that Williams took this one guy’s claim as being more universal than it really is):

“The process of taking the record off the shelf, pulling it out of the sleeve, putting the needle on the record, makes for a much more intense and personal connection with the music because it’s more effort,” said R. J. Crowder-Schaefer, 21, a senior at New York University who said he became a serious vinyl disciple a few years ago.

A whole ten to fifteen seconds worth of ‘effort’ validates an experience! LOOK, cretins…

And I realize that mocking laughter ain’t going to fly much as an explanation, so on the off chance this fellow’s self-googling leads him here (odder’s happened…) — look, dude, what matters to you? The song, or how you hear the song? The feelings or emotions or awe that a piece of music creates in you, or whether or not you found it at a thrift sale as opposed to purchasing it through iTunes? The artistic creation or its physical incarnation?

This actually opens up a huge can of theoretical worms, one admittedly long since opened in general. (Invoking Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is almost as bad a cliche as these ‘vinyl’s back!’ pieces, and yet the man’s words remain still relevant even as we move from mechanical reproduction towards digital.) And there’s much to discuss and has been discussed in the act of how we receive and understand ‘art’ as conceived and formalized — what do we expect our books to look like? our movies and their presentation? and so forth. To go on would be more than I would want to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, thanks.

Rightly or wrongly I keep feeling like I want to pull the ‘you kids, why back in my day…’ move, which I suppose is inevitable. And as I keep telling people, the fact remains that different generations will have different expectations and desires about ‘their’ art, how it is presented and conceived — mine isn’t the only way to look at things and should never be. Love vinyl all you want, folks — as someone who collects things like Folio Society books, I’m hardly averse to the idea of fancy presentations, quality materials, the whiff of exclusivity. We each deal with such things in our own way.

But it would be *utterly* ignorant of me — utterly, totally, completely — to make a claim along the lines of how, say, the fact that I have a sleek, high-quality-paper edition of something like Gulliver’s Travels or the complete work of Keats means I am somehow making a ‘much more intense and personal connection’ with those pieces and their authors than someone who reads them in a cheap paperback version or, in fact, googles and finds them online. (Which, of course, you can.) My hope — and really, my end belief — is that someone like Crowder-Schaefer will recognize that on his own quickly enough. I am a natural optimist that way.

Meantime, to conclude — you’ll note I haven’t gotten into the ‘but vinyl just sounds better’ argument. Frankly that’s a road even MORE long-trodden since the 1980s. So instead I’ll leave the final words to Scott Seward, again from that ILM thread, who’s around my age and has been a vinyl lover pretty much all his life, in response to Acklin’s ‘pops and clicks and imperfections’ appreciation:

ugh, i get really tired hearing about the allure of pops and clicks. blah. buy clean vinyl, you dolts.

Amen. And in the meantime, if you could put this bag over your head to pretend you’re the person I just had executed…

One Response to “Some days I hear or read music news that makes me feel like Edmund, Lord Blackadder”

  1. Vincent Card Says:

    Thank you very mutch!


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