Thursday, January 15, 2009

Waxing Nostalgic

The first record I ever bought was KISS "Alive II." If you had told me then that I'd be interviewing all four of the original members on a reunion tour some 20-odd years later, you'd have lost me at the word interview. They didn't have interviews in Highlights magazine, and I'm guessing my eagerly awaited monthly subscription didn't have the exploits of Gene Simmons in mind when they tagged the cover line "Fun With a Purpose." No, life was simpler then. I didn't have thousands of CDs ripped onto an 400 GB hard drive and a mere click on the mouse pad away, it was just me and my hard plastic turntable.

I've yet to meet anyone old enough to have owned a record player that doesn't have a vinyl-coated story to tell. Your first LP actually meant something. Do you think kids today are going to remember the first album they bought on iTunes 30 years from now? Not likely. There used to be an art to listening to music. Now cynics are hard-pressed to even call today's music art. What happened? That's more than even I care to try and tackle in a single blog, but I'll throw this out there to get the ball rolling: Listening to music used to be an active process that engaged the listener. You didn't skip from track-to-track, because you needed to have better hands than Oliver Platt in "Executive Decision" to actually drop the needle at the song you wanted. No, you listened to an album side and thrilled in the ride, reveled in the pacing, and knew your LP so well that you could anticipate the skips in the grooves. Records weren't background music, they were listened to.

I remember sitting in my friend Tom's clubhouse - made behind his parent's garage with scrap wood and assorted odds and ends that wore out their welcome in his family's house - and listening to Queen "The Game," Freddie Mercury offering the sage advice to "light another cigarette and let yourself go" in the opening track. Then "Dragon Attack" punched through the calm and hit us with a surge of adrenaline that we knew was cool, even if we didn't know what the words meant (I'm still not sure, actually!). We could listen to "Another One Bites The Dust" over-and-over again, but we didn't dare disrespect the rest of the album. Records were made of one continuous groove for a reason, and who were we to defy the ridges of the sacred vinyl.

I might, on another day, make the argument that the skip button ruined music. Once it became easy to skip to your favorite song, listening to an album became passe. Remember the joy of making the perfect mix tape? Who needs that when you could just blast from track-to-track with reckless abandon? Maybe that's why I took such pride in ripping my CD collection to a hard drive a few years ago. The CD ruined records, and when records got ruined, music lost the true champion of an art form.

I sat in a conference room at Rhino Records with about two dozen of the label's employees and listened to the new Queensryche record, "American Soldier," from start to finish earlier today. When it was over, without a second's hesitation, everyone in the room broke into applause. We didn't clap because it was over, we clapped because we all knew that we had just heard something that was nothing short of magnificent. I'll be writing more about the album in the coming weeks, but today's lesson was simple: Artists haven't forgotten how to make great art, the audience has forgotten how to appreciate it. We need to rediscover the joy of listening to a record, because there are artists that haven't forgotten the joy of creating a record.

We need to get back to basics. We need to remember vinyl and what it represented.

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Other not-so-famous firsts:
MY FIRST CASSETTE: The Knack "Get the Knack"
MY FIRST COMPACT DISC: The Cult "Sonic Temple"
MY FIRST iTUNES: Justin Timberlake "Sexyback" (the single)


Andrew said...

In the spirit of open and honest communication, Metallica and the Cult were not bought at the same time. Joe B. actually bought you ...And Justice For All for your birthday. It was what he called a "just in case present." Just in case you get a CD player.

Other than glaring mistake, great thoughts. There's nothing like listening to an album from start to finish, and frankly there is no better way to listen to music. Recently I've been bummed because I find myself listening to many of the same CDs, mostly from 10+ years ago. But really there's no reason to be bummed - the music was simply better.

There's a big difference between an artist, a musician and a band. I will never grow tired of the first, I'll always appreciate the 2nd and I won't be listening to many of the same 3rds one year from now.

Paul Gargano said...

Thank you, because I was tormented over that--What I remember was having two discs when I got my first CD player. It's nice to know that I can now SAFELY say what the first one was... Too bad it wasn't Metallica!

Now can you tell me how, in hell, you remember that???