Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Does it matter if it isn't real?

So, I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about facebook (which I have a low grade addiction to, but I digress) and we were talking about how hard it is, in the age of social networks, to avoid creating multiple identities for ourselves. Facebook, like so many other forms of digital culture, can help us to create our perfect personality, our perfect identity. We can craft and craft and craft until we lose the flaws that help to so define who we are.

I was thinking about this the other night when I was playing LPs for Ape, trying to explain why I loved vinyl. I played him some Otis Redding, Beatles, Black Keys, and Death Cab. I try to get him to appreciate the crackle, the pop, the way that reverb makes a sound feel like it's actually echoing from a smoky hall or club somewhere.

I'm realizing that my love of the LP has nothing to do with the sound.

There's something about physical media that is so much more genuine than anything that we've created in the digital age. It's the fact that it's so much harder to hide the different parts of your personality with physical music, books, pictures than it is with digital ones. With music alone I can download thousands of tracks in minutes and delete anything that I don't like or I don't think reflects well on who I am. Physical media is harder.

I remember going to the music store down the road from my apartment in Rhode Island and searching through the racks for the album I wanted. This was a commitment, one that would linger, one that would add to my musical identity. People who looked through my CDs would see it and gain a glimpse into my tastes and interests. And I had some albums that I would rather not admit I had. DC Talk's Free at Last (badly executed Christian rap... oh baby!), The Greatest Hits of Huey Lewis and the News, The Beach Boys Christmas album. But you don't just throw out a CD. If you hate it enough, you'd trade it, give it away, try to find a used music store where you could sell it back. And if you kept it, it said something about you. No matter how much you claimed the opposite, no matter how much you tried to deny it, you just might enjoy Poison, you just might get down to Boys II Men. And so a music collection became a very real thing, because it represented strengths, flaws, incredible finds, and massive failures. Now it's so easy when someone finds an embarrassing group in your music collection to say "I downloaded it off of my sister's iPod" or "I just downloaded a bunch of stuff from this one site" and you've completely separated yourself from any connection to your music.

That's why I love vinyl. I love the smell and the weight of a record. I love the process (and I do mean process) of putting it on the turntable. I love the atmosphere it creates. I also love that my collection is completely random and spastic, kind of like me. I may have Vampire Weekend, Death Cab, the Beatles, and Sam Cooke... but I also have the Star Wars soundtrack (thanks Casey!), Neil Diamond, Art Garfunkel. And I'm ok with that tension because it's incredibly genuine. And I'd rather have that than a completely "perfect" digital collection that hides the more embarrassing aspects of my musical tastes.

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