WHEN BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN sang “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)” — at some point I will catalog the reasons I’m not a diehard Boss fan, but I’ll give him this — he nailed a perfect cultural take in a moment when our cable-television buffet was beginning its descent into the current thousand-channel Golden Corral of so many Kardashians. And there’s still nothin’ on.
Similarly, one day about five years ago, I was paralyzed by my iTunes. Call it “160GB and Nothing to Play.” One long list, staring back at me. Words. A database. Bereft of a soul, perspective, personality. Bits and bytes, as opposed to music.
Soon after, they (streaming services from Apple, Google, Amazon, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, Pandora, whomever else) started tracking everything we play. Then they assigned machine-learning AI bots to decide “If you like this, we can root around what rights we own and recommend a kinda-sorta-match.” And selling data points to each other. And building profiles of us, fair or unfair. And dropping ads in our social media and search results. As if simply gutting our privacy wasn’t enough injury, there was one more insult: Charging us for the privilege to rent our music while screwing the artists on the other end by devaluing each play to fractions of a cent.
Are you kidding me?
At that point, I mostly unplugged from digital music, save for occasional MP3s in the car and ’phones while on my daily walks. The lion’s share of listening is vinyl, at home. Why? Because records, shelved, in their imperfection, represent something you can pick up and feel. And choose without punching text into a search field or worse yet, speaking it and hoping speech-recognition and natural-language processing will figure out what you would like to hear.
Records, shelved, in their imperfection, represent something you can pick up and feel. Not a database list.
As the first Fluckwittery interviewee will tell you — a studio pro who isn’t an LP snob and endorses music in all formats — records force active listening to music, something many of us have either lost in the digital era, or never found in the first place. Records exist outside the reach of the digital spies’ tracking mechanisms; no data analytics program will, fairly or unfairly, tag me as a Phil Collins fan and attempt to force the Collins-adjacent Mike + The Mechanics down my throat after listening to a Nursery Cryme LP.
Some people may claim that vinyl sounds better, backing it up with science-based justifications involving human physiology. I wouldn’t know; age and countless nights in rock clubs managed to shear off the edges of my hearing capacity such that these subtle differences are lost on me, so I won’t try and sell that. They may be wrong, but for all I know they may be right. All I know is what sounds good to me.
This blog represents more the cultural side of music that vinyl’s opened (in some cases, reopened) for me than audiophile nerdery — and there will be some of that, too. Discovering artists never heard before, finding out-of-print music you’d never hear on the dominant-streaming-service-du-jour, and for those you can stream, revisiting old favorites one kind-of-knew back in the day but, in the intervening years, one comes to appreciate more fully. Or, in some cases such as Slade’s Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply, don’t stand the test of time. Those sorts of discussions.
I’ll talk about gear I use, records I play, great stores I visit and share interviews — with musicians, collectors, store owners and people making the vinyl. And there will be some rock-book reviews, too, if we can get to them. So we will, occasionally, veer off the vinyl tracks at times.
Most importantly, there will be old-school rock crit. More on that soon.