Music as a Commodity
I spend well over a couple hours on the road every day. It’s always the same roads, passing the same vehicles that carry the same people going through the same routine as me. I start to feel a certain affinity for them, a sense of community; if I don’t see the gray 2005 Nissan Altima one day, or the bright yellow pickup truck, I wonder if that guy got fired or quit his job. Maybe he called in sick. Did he die in his sleep?
This morning, while zoning out on the road, I was listening to the French singer Camille. I’m a big fan. It was her most recent album, Ilo Veyou, and I hadn’t heard it yet. Before pulling out of the driveway, I’d sliced my fingernail through the CD shrinkwrap and pinched the disc out of its mini-gatefold cover, careful not to get my greasy fingerprints all over it. I enjoy this routine. It reminds me of being a kid, peeling the plastic off of a new vinyl record and sitting cross legged in front of my stereo speakers, absorbing the album art and reading the lyric sheet – even the credits and list of thank yous – while the music plays. It was ritualistic. It was sublime.
And it got me thinking, on the road this morning, of that two- or three-year period when I’d lost my passion for music.
I was always that kid who would sit down with a new cassette tape and get his rocks fucking off over hearing a cool riff or a clever lyric for the first time. I’d sometimes lay down on my back with the speakers pressed up against my ears, trying to hear every note, every harmony, every subliminal message. I felt it. These feelings inspired me to learn how to play drums and guitar, and start bands, and spend my science class labs designing logos rather than studying the periodic table because it wasn’t enough to feel it. I had to createit. I had to be it.
I’ve spent so much money on music it almost makes me sick to think about. When Amazon’s web store first opened, I would spend half of a paycheck on CDs, completely drunk with euphoria when an order came in and I’d tear open the box and pore over these discs – many of them imports – that a few short years earlier I would never have been able to get my hands on.
Something happened around ten years ago. Torrents. Albums regularly leaked long before their release dates. I downloaded everything and, at first, I loved that access. It was a drug. How was I supposed to wait for an official release when I could download a leak two months early? I was too passionate to wait.
But the more I downloaded, the less I listened. The ritual was gone, and slowly, the passion went with it. Why? Because music had become a commodity. It had become fast food.
I kept it up for a few years, downloading mostly leaked albums before their release, but always buying the actual disc when it hit the stores. But even that got old. Before the Internet, I would drive to the record store, buy the CD or the cassette, then sit in my car and listen to the whole thing, straight through, before even pulling out of the parking lot. After the Internet, I would drive to the store and buy the disc to the support the band…then file it away because I had already heard the leaked copy a hundred times.
The ritual was gone. The passion was gone. The magic was gone.
It has something to do with the perceived value of a product. When you receive something for free, over and over and over, your perceived value of that something will eventually be reduced to zero. This is why, I believe, the Internet generation is less passionate about the music and more intrigued by the celebrities behind the music. But even the celebrities lack value; they are faceless and generic, just different incarnations of the same reality television character, and sadly, as Michele Catalano suggested, there really are no more rock stars.
Anyway, sometime in the last few years, I managed to reinvent the ritual in this digital world. Maybe I missed the anticipation of waiting for a new album. Maybe I felt guilty about all the music I downloaded but never actually got around to buying. I don’t really know.
But zoning out to Camille’s latest, while driving to work this morning and wondering if the guy in the 1998 Ford hatchback had slept through his alarm, I felt that the magic had returned.
And I was grateful for it.