Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Perils of Insta-Music (Down with downloading)

The downloading of music -both legal and illegal- is quickly and efficiently destroying the entire independent music scene throughout the US and abroad.

As a musician, a former record store clerk, a former record store owner, and a consumer boasting a collection of hundreds of CD’s and LP’s combined, I have witnessed firsthand the gradual, yet incredibly steep decline of today’s music scene.

Our desire for instant gratification far out-weighs our willingness to stop and pay attention to any thought, sound, or idea that may seem foreign to us, thus taking away any initiative to think independently. This is the problem with downloadable music. If you do not immediately identify in every way, shape and form to the sound and idea that is currently being presented, you are just a click away from listening to any of the 40,000 songs that are able to occupy your 80 gigabyte I-Pod.

While my experiences working at independent record stores are some of my fondest career related memories of my life (not that its strong competition), it is in turn, peppered by sadness.

As a former record store owner, I had the ability to help people get turned onto new and old sounds from around the world. Unfortunately, this was before having to close the doors due to the insistence of my landlord that I be able to afford the monthly rent.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the devastation that can occur to CD sales when a company can sell downloads of music for a few dollars cheaper than a physical manifestation of the sound. Countless independent record stores around the country, even the world have now closed due to a lack of sales, and it has had a devastating impact on the music scene at large.

Independent record stores are the heart of the music scene. When attempting to confront the massive bulk that is today’s music industry, there is no company online, or in any ultra-mega mart that requires the merchant to know the nuances of the artists, genres, and origins of songs the way that they do. Additionally, if a local band wants to promote an upcoming show, they cannot turn to “Napster” for help, however they are almost always welcome (and often encouraged) to post a poster or flyers at their local store.

But record stores are not the only effected by downloading. Gone are the days of the Woody Guthrie’s, the Bob Dylan‘s, and the John Lennon‘s. The new “voice of a generation” is little more than a shrill wail let loose by whatever band happens to be promoted on the “I-Tunes” home page that week. When music has to be instantly marketable to the masses in order to turn a profit, there is no room for deviation from the standard blueprint. The result? New, raw talent is not only overlooked, but also discouraged.

Another less visible, but equally debilitating issue created by downloading is the ease of obtaining hard to find music. This may sound as more of a blessing than curse, but the premise is simple: The harder you work to obtain anything in life, the more you value it. In previous generations, collectors would plow through hundreds of records to find that one hard to find song on some out of print record label. Now you are just two clicks and $9.99 away from the “Lost Sessions” of any given artist. When rare music is at your fingertips at any given point, the hunt for it is lost, and in so, it loses a bit of its significance.

Unfortunately for true music enthusiasts, there is no end in sight. As downloadable music sales continue to rise, CD sales also continue to plummet. Music is quickly becoming little more than a combination of 0’s and 1’s stored some massive data bank, owned by some corporate greedhead living in a private community that you would be immediately shot on site for entering. Video did in fact NOT kill the radio star, the bloody knife rests in our own pockets, next to our I-Pod.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I desperately worry about my heritage...

On November 2nd 1992, I alone bared witness as my Grandmother’s mind finally took the descent from being only slightly cracked, to becoming wholly fractured as my Grandfather lie dieing on their kitchen floor. As she whisked me off to his library amid the confusion of paramedics and family members, I remember being incredibly confused and frightened as she commanded me to pray to god and violently forced me onto my knees into the closet to do so. Upon retrospection of this evening, it was not her calling out to a god that I had never before heard her mention that foreshadowed the events of coming years, but rather the fact that that night, the spirits began to talk back to her.

My earliest memories of her begin as she babysat me on the weekends, when my parents needed “alone time“. My Grandmother has long been an undiagnosed obsessive compulsive, and at this point, she was captured in the depths of her vitamin craze stage. I remember well these days with her, but it is the days following those visits I remember with much more clarity. The day always consisted of taking the seven vitamins that she had set out for me beside each meal, while the days afterward consisted on the excruciating fecal ramifications of introducing foreign vitamins and minerals to an undeveloped six year old digestive system.

But these early memories were not all bad. Often at this age, as did my father, I would have terrible migraines, and she would hold my head in a dark room for hours at a time until they mostly passed. I remember being amazed during these times with her, when she seemed so genuinely loving and warm. But as soon as the headache was gone, she was immediately on the phone to my Mother, lecturing about the vitamin deficient causes of the pain.

The death of my Grandfather brought about an abrupt end to the vitamin stage, and ushered in a spiritual one. It was less than one business week after his death she began to claim that the dead were making contact with her. Eventually they were telling her things that my Grandfather had done to her, without her having known so. It is hard for any family to deal with the loss of a loved one, let alone a patriarchical figure that was the sole gatherer of families that rarely saw eye to eye. But when a Grandmother is telling her children, grandchild, and anyone who will listen (including the alleged mistresses husband and family) about the messages from beyond the dead of his extramarital affairs (with no physical shred of proof), it is damn near impossible for any rational mind to deal with.

It was for this reason that she basically became disowned from her family for nearly a decade. My Grandfather’s family abandoned her due to the smearing of his well known name, my father abandoned her for the obvious reason, my aunt good-heartedly attempted to include her in her young children’s lives, whilst wisely whispering words of psychiatric commitment. All of this while, I alone took the daunting task of visiting with her once a week, of enduring séances where she spoke ill of my Grandfather, of going out to dinner at the same salad buffet and having everyone watch as she loudly argued with spirits that no one could see, yet she could seemingly hear clear as day.

When finally feelings settled down, the family began to slowly learn to ignore her constant badgering about the spirit world, and for a time, people began to again see each other, albeit uneasily for the holidays. It was not many years into this time when my Aunt Tam succumbed to cancer after an arduous fight. How hard it obviously was on her kids, my younger cousins, I can not even imagine. I tried (as did others) whenever present to keep my Grandmother from attempting to make them contact their deceased mother, but it turned out to be an insurmountable task. I could not convince her that despite her beliefs, no one else in the family felt the same, and that no one wanted to hear what she believed Tam was saying. Incredibly, Tam’s husband begrudgingly dealt with it, and still willingly does to this day, in an effort to give their kids a grandmother.

When I finally decided I needed to leave Ohio in order to start my own life, and move to California with my now wife, my Grandmother was not happy. Her response came the day before I was to leave, by claiming to the family that I emptied her trash can onto her lawn, and broke her flag pole in half. My Father, in an amazing attempt to make things right before I left, went to investigate. He discovered her garbage had been gone through by raccoons, and that the .50 cent flag on a pole no bigger than a pencil had been knocked over in the process. When he asked how she knew it was me, she responded “Because the spirits told me so”. I then tearfully went to her place in an effort to talk her out of this notion, to no avail.

That following Christmas I was not able to return to Ohio, so I sent my wife with her present. Earlier that year I had a phone conversation with my Grandmother about a class I was taking, and I understood her to be genuinely interested in my class, Critical Thinking. So being a poor college student, I sent her my textbook as opposed to returning it for the $5.99 re-buy at the campus bookstore. Her response was to storm back to my wife’s mothers house the next day, throw the book at her, and demand back the $100.00 savings bond that she had given us for a Christmas present (which was purchased by my grandfather in an effort to provide me with a college education). When I called her to confront her on this situation, she then disowned me, saying that I had never been there for her, so her life would go on with little noticeable difference.

That next July I married my wife at a formal ceremony in Ohio. My family pushed me to invite her, again and again and again. I declined to the very end. It’s not that I had finally had enough of her, far from it. It’s that I would never let anyone treat the love of my life in that absurd, mean-spirited fashion. I was then informed that upon her finding out, I was fully disowned as she berated my father into returning the part of my inheritance that had already been disbursed, and was sitting in a bank lock box vault.

I do not hate my Grandmother, but I do pity her, and it would be more than a lie to say that I do harbor any ill feelings towards her. I still haven’t spoken to her since before the wedding. The last I heard from my father, she is nearing the end of her spiritual obsessive/compulsive phase. According to him, her new craze is that aliens have infiltrated the world and are currently living among humans. As little common sense as it makes, I look back and cherish those days of near vomit inducing migraines as some of my best fondest memories of being with her, as it is the only point in our relationship that I have ever felt unconditionally loved by her.