Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hello Old Friends ... (And New)

Hello Friends ... back online after a long sabbatical !

I remember where I was when I first noticed the problem. It was a beautiful spring day in 1999, and I had the top down, stereo cranked in the car, racing to a jam session with a '58 strat and old Fender Brown Deluxe strapped into the seat beside me.

I also had a big cardboard box holding a couple hundred CDs in paper sleeves ... you see, I had started to get behind in my listening. Pressure was building. "Have you listened to that yet??", friends would write and ask.

Tape trading began with ... well, tape. And only the lowest of the low, the unwashed, the uncouth, would even consider high speed dubbing or worse, using what the folks in Spinal Tap called "Dubly". Copying a tape for a friend was always a welcome reason to crank the old Dynaco stereo, let the tubes glow and do their thing, and enjoy a performance all over again.

CD burners first came out and these were like spaceships from another planet. Cool digital goodness, and yikes ... everyone gets perfect digital clones. And things in some ways, were much the same as in the tape days. Put a show on, synchronize the player and recorder, kick back and listen.

Then ... well, then came 2x recorders. I'm convinced that this is a fundamental male trait, and it doesn't matter if it's a manly man like John Wayne or a flaming queen like Elton John ... faster is *always* better. Instructions on a frozen pizza will read "Cook for 10 minutes at 400 degrees" and a guy will always have that little voice in his head saying "HEY! Cook it for ONE minute at four THOUSAND degrees!". Not to mention the amazing goodness of the jet powered beer cooler.

The next thing you know, listening was always outpaced by copying by that ratio of 2:1. And it got worse. Then it was 4x. Then 8x. SIXTEEN speed drives. Pretty soon there were those wild urban legends about just how fast a burner could spin before the laws of physics took over, turning one's friendly PC into a macabre desktop IED.

Pretty soon, we were all swimming in discs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing of course. (Ted) Sturgeon's Law is as true as ever, and holds basically that "90% of everything is crud". Well, in the case of live concert recordings, let's modify that to be more like 99% at times. But that 1% ... that magic 1% ... it's one of those things, either you get it or you don't. I feel a twinge of pity for those who don't.

Pretty soon all sorts of ugly problems began to pop up as well ... not merely because of cheap hardware, poorly written software, and junk media, but worst of all ... because we were all inundated with discs. Using the finest, most error-proof technology that guarantees perfection, every time, is of no use if you haven't checked the source material, and Human Ear v. 1.0 still works exclusively at 1x and no further modification is even considered.

Meanwhile, the stacks keep getting larger and larger. "Catching Up" slips from a goal, to a hope, to a dream, to a crumbling despair.

I'll never forget the first CD-R copy I ever received. I was considering taking the plunge into the digital age, but was leery ... would copies *really* sound as good as the original? So a trading buddy overseas surprised me and one day in the post - there it was. I popped it in a CD player, put on headphones, and was SOLD. I literally picked up the phone and ordered by first burner before the first song finished playing. (Trivia note: That first CD was the Imperial release MSG).

I bring this up because a couple years later it was the same buddy who posed a very interesting question: "When was the last time you went back and relistened to any of this stuff? Have you thought about how long it would take you if you started with the first disc, and listened all the way through to the end?"

It's a good question, and bears asking. When was the last time you got off the treadmill of "new", escaped the tyranny of the onslaught of releases, and revisited some old favorites? Is the purpose of collecting to simply find more, more, more, becoming a self fulfilling vicious cycle, or is it about enjoying the work for what it is? I know that for some "collectors" (I use that term derisively) it is about the size of the collection, but I know that for most of my friends it isn't ... yet at the same time it can be almost impossible to jump off the moving train once it's gathered a bunch of inertia.

In short ... for me, I finally realized one day that trading had stopped being FUN. Even more amazing was the realization that, in fact, it hadn't been fun for quite some time - it was that I was just so busy trying to "catch up" that I hadn't noticed how much I disliked it. And the least part of the dislike was that it seemed that 99% of my interaction with friends was saying "no" constantly. Each person can't understand why you can't help out, just a little trade, but then again we all view life through our own narrow perspectives ... and when it's fifty, or five hundred people who are just asking for a favor - it's impossible.

And then there's what some have begun to refer to as the tyranny of email. Try to contact a head of state or the president of a Fortune 500 company and you won't expect results ... but those folks have huge staffs to help out. For the rest of us ... it's ten fingers, trying to stem the tide, feeling like the Little Dutch Boy. It's easy to dismiss what you don't want to respond to ... and much harder when time constraints won't allow you to respond to the people that you really want to talk with.

This came to me as I contemplated a massive equipment failure that cost me hundreds (nay, thousands) of hours of lost work. And from a perspective of being perpetually six weeks or six months or six years behind ... what do you do then?

The answer was easy: Cold Turkey.

It's an imperfect analogy, but Cold Turkey works well for those with chemical addictions and/or habits. It also means that when you quit cold turkey, you don't go hang out in bars where people drink and party. Nightclubs and dance halls are out.
I decided to take a break from my CD addiction ... Cold Turkey!

More importantly, when it came to music, I went back and started over. Started over with CDs I hadn't listened to ... really listened to in 20 years. It was liberating. And strangest of all, I began to catch up on my listening. That box in my car in 1999 had over the years become a couple of packed shelving units, wood shelves bowing in the middle from weight. Slowly - I waded through the good and the bad (remember: Sturgeon's Law).

So where are we now? Well, music is fun again. The shelves still have some unauditioned goodies, and there's an evil cardboard box in the closet with dozens of packages that are still unopened, some dating back almost 4 years! So I'll keep listening, and cautiously - with all the care of a recovering Audio Addict - stick my toe back into the waters.

So where does this leave you, dear reader? Are you stuck on that treadmill? When was the last time you went and pulled some old favorites off the shelf for a listen? Do you find yourself hating having to say "no" far more than you say "yes"? And what do we do about that, what is the answer?

I don't know the answer ... but I'll keep searching!



Blogger hoochiephil said...

Hey, good to see you're back, alive and well! Take it slow & enjoy the music!!
Phil from Germany
("Dunderklumpen", and that's for you only!! :) )

12:04 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Glad you're up and running again! It's no surprise to me that trading has kicked you in the ass. When you scroll the pages you made in these years it's hard to imagine you had time to do you're shopping

3:41 AM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Great to know that you're back, and enjoying the music. That's what it's really all about, isn't it - actually listening to the music, and having fun. When it starts to be work, it's time to give it a rest, and I'm glad your "vacation" refreshed you.

All the best, and many thanks for keeping the site up during your sabbatical.

2:38 AM  

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