Saturday, July 22, 2006

material culture and music, or boy how i miss record covers.

a few years ago - basically, within about 3 days of getting one of the first iPods - I decided to put my whole cd collection into a digital jukebox. I'm no dj shadow when it comes to record collecting, but even a fellow who's just moderately interested in music can come up with a few thousand cds and records over the years without trying too hard. I made a project out of it, took a stack of cds in to work with me every day for like 6 weeks, and had my laptop convert them while I did my job.

That allowed me to file the actual disks away - such a relief, as in a crowded new york city apartment, every inch is valuable. No more time spent wondering how this disk got in that one's sleeve, or buying another copy of something because you kicked that 22$ import across the floor and scratched it all to hell. The juke ran on an iMac(blue) I purchased on ebay solely for that purpose, and basically worked really well. Before my most recent move, I carted all the CDs up to a friend's basement...people who have entire houses don't mind that sort of thing, it turns out. At the new place, not having to fill a whole bookcase with music is completely liberating.

The thing is....initally the record collection all fit on a 40 gig hard drive. Eventually, that filled up...and I swapped it for a 80 gig drive. You can't delete the stuff from the forty, though, because of course it would take forever to reload everything, so it stays in the closet as a back up. Most recently I bought a 250gig drive, and amazingly that's close to filled up now; the iTunes store and my video iPod (which I love, and use all the time) have left me with the 'need' to archive ever larger amounts of data. I started the damn jukebox project so I wouldn't have to worry about the ever-increasing space demands of my library, and of course that problem never really goes away - it just gets transferred from one medium to another. As far as I can tell, there are really on two ways of dealing with the issue. First, make it someone else's problem - and that means probably paying some sort of subscription fee forever, not a great option. Second, leapfrog the situation by getting a truly gigantic amount of storage, which is in fact another temporary solution, but hopefully more longer temporary. That's what I'm leaning towards right now.

Mary asked me to give her some CDs to listen to in the office she's working at right now. It took me back for a minute, because I sort of assume that if you've got a space where you can listen to tunes at work (not like me, a video editor), you just plug the ipod in and go. But this magazine has a stereo and CD player, so very quaint. Of course, I didn't actually have any to give her, so I picked a few things out of the jukebox, burned the CDs and used the iTunes print feature to make the cd covers. As I held the finished products in my hands, I got kind of sad. I really miss CDs...I don't think it's the CDs exactly - I know it isn't, they sucked from day one - but I definitely miss having a physical component to the music. Something to hold, and to stare at. I loved minidiscs for that reason; there were so many types, and colors, it made a record collection literally look like a bunch of candy. I buy almost all of my music online now - eMusic, Bleep (god bless you warp records) and the iTunes store all make a pretty excellent range of stuff available. But I do miss the liner notes, the variations in the cd packaging, the double colored vinyl of a stereolab LP. And it's not just music that seems to benefit from this physical accompaniment to the cultural product being disbursed. People collect movie tickets, save the program from an orchestra concert, buy a t-shirt at a rock show. It's ingrained pretty deeply into our system to have a physical object which can contain all our associations with the artwork in question. It doesn't really seem like something we can get past...I doubt I'm gonna start going to record stores twice a week again, the downloads really fit my lifestyle a bit better. But I might carry a few CDs around, just for grins, instead of my iPod.

Of course, I'll need to clear out a shelf for them.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What's goin' on...

What's goin' on...

(Listening to America: A traveler rediscovers his country, by Bill Moyers. Published 1971.)

I just finished reading Bill Moyer's travelogue, published the year after I was born. I know I was born on an air force base in north north north texas, since my dad had been drafted, but for some reason I still think of the time around my birth as being relatively calm. I guess the artificial divides of the "the sixties" and "the seventies" lead to me consider that we'd landed on the moon, and everyone was sitting around drinking cocktails, marvelling at what a crazy time we'd just had, and waiting for for the next part of the show to begin.( "Apparently, they'll be inventing PUNK rock! I hear it's AWFUL!", one party-goer will say to another.)

Of course history isn't ever that neat, and reading this book 35 years later, you get an idea of how messy it can actually be. Having concluded time as Deputy Director of the Peace Corp, "special assistant" to President Johnson, and publisher of NEWSDAY, Moyers spent a summer driving through America, asking people what was on their minds, and listening. It turns out they had a lot to say. America was worried about: the long hairs, unions, school integration (bussing), the war, immigration, the trade deficit, identity politics of several varieties, race, zoning, and how one person can actually make a difference. Moyers really lets the folks he interviews speak their minds, and the book is full of minute details about each issue, but it's fascinating anyway.

What resonates throughout all of the complaints is a pervasive sense that there's something worth saving about the country. It's rather amazing to see how much differently folks interpreted the idea of patriotism; there seems to be a genuine sense of dialog between opposing factions at many of the towns that Moyers stops at along the way.

Most of what people were worried about 35 years ago is still with us today. The country was in a war that many of the citizens opposed, and most folks had a hard time explaining to each other what it's purpose was. Anytime anyone speaks about the war, it's fairly uncanny, as we spiral ever deeper into Iraq and the Israel-Lebanon crisis gets more explosive daily.

Stepping back in time, to a day when MLK was a person whose loss was freshly felt, when the nation's youth were testing their voices and being heard, and when someone could ask a question, and know how to simply listen to the answer, is a powerful experience...I finished reading this book with a much fuller picture of what America was, and is.