By Harry Paterson
I don’t know if it’s symptomatic of my increasing decline into a state of old fartage or just some innate irascibility and intolerance but, increasingly, the ipod generation mystify, anger and disappoint me. I think this is best illustrated by an exchange a twenty-something and I ‘enjoyed’ the other day.
He was listening to his ipod. When he unplugged I asked, eagerly, what he was listening to. Eagerly, because if the best thing is playing music and the next best listening to it, then talking about it is where it’s at.
“Oh, you know. This and that”
“Not really, so what specifically?”
“Just some tunes, a random playlist kinda thing”
“Right. So what sort of stuff are you into then?”
“Oh you know, this and that, a bit of everything, really”
I accept that my inquisitorial tone and intimidating glare, coupled with the general air of deadly serious intensity, appropriate when music is on the agenda, might have discomfited him somewhat, but I was finding the absence of passion and commitment deeply unacceptable.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah” I persisted impatiently, “but what, specifically? What’s you fave album, for example?”
Now then; as you no doubt know there are only two acceptable responses to this most vital and important of questions. One would be, “Christ, man, I couldn’t possibly name just one but my top 10 would include….” and the other would be a confident and assertive naming of the album with an animated and persuasive discourse highlighting why said album is the pinnacle of artistic achievement.
What is never, ever acceptable, under any circumstances whatsoever, is the response I actually got. Try this on for size…
“Hmm, er, well, you know, I’m not really into albums, as such”
Eh? Come again? What does this mean? How can such a thing be so? What kind of parents did this mutation have?
I stared blankly at him for a moment. I genuinely failed to compute. He sensed something of this, I think, and stammered, “I just like tunes, the odd thing here and there. I set my iTunes to make playlists so I’ve always got something to listen to when I’m bored”
There are so many things wrong with this response, so many things entirely unacceptable, evil, possibly, that’s it’s hard to know where to start.
How can you not be “into albums”? How is that possible? Jesus, an album from one of your favourite bands is a landmark event, a defining moment in your life. Something by which you can pinpoint exactly where you were, how you felt and with whom, if anyone, you were shooting the shit when you first bought and/or heard it. I mean, sure, you might mix up your kids’ birthdays, forget, maybe, that you even have kids but you never, ever forget all the details surrounding your first acquaintance with a favourite album.
An album is the snapshot of where that artist or band is at that exact moment in time. It is to be dissected in minute detail, to be pored over with the exacting scrutiny a pathologist might bring to the latest cadaver arriving on his table, courtesy of a serial killer. It’s that important. Obviously. In fact, screw that; it’s more important.
You will consider why, for example, Dave ‘Duck ‘Dowle was ousted from the Whitesnake line-up after ‘Lovehunter’ to be replaced by Ian Paice on ’Ready ‘n’ Willing’ (actually, you’ll wonder why it didn’t happen sooner).
You will be intimately acquainted with the producer and where he sits in that band’s progression, you will know all the lyrics, a no-brainer, and you will be able to confidently lecture, for up to an hour and a half, as to the album’s validity and significance in relation to the band’s oeuvre and with regard to the wider genre in which it sits.
You will, unquestionably, have known the release date of the album as soon as it was announced. You will mark off the days on your calendar and you will have visited your local vinyl emporium and paid cash, in advance, to ensure you have the latest opus in your greedy, grasping little paws at the very moment of availability.
You might even, and this is not in the least unusual, have queued outside the shop from seven in the morning waiting for the delivery van. You will have made sure that you have every single possible format of the album that was made available. Picture disc, Japanese import with extra tracks, box set with free patch, whatever.
It will define your life and decide your social availability for the next period. You’ll invite mates and fellow cognoscenti round to listen to the album with the sort of contemplative and introspective state more usually exhibited by Buddhist Monks. You will display your wares with a pride that mere fathers of children couldn’t possibly understand.
The act of removing the sacred plastic from the sleeve, placing it reverentially on your turntable (fitted with diamond stylus, natch) and waiting for that that slight crackle and hiss to give way to music, glorious music, fills one with an indescribable excitement and anticipation. There is nothing quite like it.
At this point I need to state I am not a vinyl snob. Not by any stretch. While I certainly clung to the sacred medium for as long as was practically possible, my ipod is as precious to me now as my Dual CS505 turntable ever was. Maybe even more so. Let’s face it, having every single album you ever owned, plus several hundred more you couldn’t afford then, all catalogued according to your preference in a little box the size of twenty Marlboros is impossible to resist.
And now, of course, thanks to lossless quality and digital perfection, if you hook your ipod up to a digital to analogue converter, sound quality and sonic excellence is better than we could ever have imagined in the sepia-toned 70s and 80s.
Of course, I realise our young philistine, through no fault of his own, was born too late to enjoy the halcyon days of turntable, vinyl and gatefold sleeves. But when he went on to shamelessly admit he’d never even been into a record shop, once I’d explained what a record shop actually was, he sensed, I’m sure, my urge to kill.
“Well, it’s bollocks, innit, record shops? You just download the top forty, bit of dance, bit of hip hop and you’ve got all the shit you need to play at parties and when you’re cruising and stuff”
Oh. My. God. Music is aural wallpaper. Background noise. A mere accompaniment to whatever activity in which he is currently engaged. He’s not “into albums”, has never been into a “record shop” and doesn’t even make his own playlists! A piece of software even does that for him.
Even before we graduated to owning our own vinyl we served a long and arduous apprenticeship dealing with cassette decks and tapes. We started huddled over a crappy transistor radio and a tape deck featuring a built-in condenser microphone, every Sunday night, to record the most wanted from that week’s Top Of The Pops. Fingers poised over the red REC/PLAY button and another on the PAUSE tab, trying to time and synchronize the process with the exact moment the DJ would stop waffling.
Howls of rage and anguish would rent the air when he’d cut in, mid way through the outro guitar solo, to babble on about what was “coming up next, pop pickers”. Sigh. Try again next week, then…
We’d desperately search out every possible opportunity for taping the albums we couldn’t possibly afford. Your mates’ big brothers, their mates, whoever.
I’ll never forget the momentous, terrifying and thrilling day that ended with me having the entire Led Zep catalogue secreted safely and flawlessly on a set of brand new, shiny Maxell C90 metal tapes.
This had been an operation of considerable planning, given the complex and problematic logistics involved. We had to consider my mate being able to safely remove the albums, undetected, of course, from his elder brother’s bedroom, getting Claire Ryals, the class forger, to write the notes excusing us both from school for an entire day and then the utter terror of carrying out the recording at my house while both parents were out at work.
Never mind the expense involved, either. The bribe to the classmate in question, who had zero interest in music (he’s an accountant now. Unsurprisingly), and the Ten Maxell metal C90 tapes that comprised the whole cigarette budget for two weeks. Or dinner money, as my Mam used to call it…
We had to work out the length of time the recording would take (all in real time, you understand, back in those analogue days) and compare that with the likely returns from work of said parents.
Given that my father, the Auld Yin, had psychic powers, including precognition and telepathy, this was very serious stuff indeed (even at age forty four, I still harbour the suspicion those powers were real and, in fact, are still so today).
We simply had to do it at my house, though, because, and this was the kicker, the Auld Yin owned a complete set of Bang and Olufsen separates. Woweee, check that shit out!
All smoky black and polished silver, with the dimensions of After Eight Mints, these state-of-the -art pieces of hi fi awesomeness were like something from the future. Props from a Hollywood Sci-Fi blockbuster, at the very least (the fact they would be deployed mainly in the playing of scratchy, mono Hank Williams records was something that took twenty years of hard knocks and bitter life experience for me to understand, but that’s a whole other story).
There would be no fannying around with microphones, no starting from scratch after one of us sneezed or knocked something off a table either. No, this was as near to perfection as a wide-eyed schoolboy rocker had ever been.
Christ, that day was something else. Every single bit of text from the album sleeves was recorded, with painstaking accuracy, onto sheets of A4 paper, so, at a later, more relaxed date, they could be transferred spotlessly onto the index cards housing the tapes. This was a vitally important part of the process, you understand. Absolutely no margin for error was allowed.
The whole operation underpinned by the certain dread, the rank terror, that the Auld Yin would, using his occult mind-meld thing, know what was happening and just magically appear in front of us, as though via the transporter from Star Trek.
For the rest of that summer I was King Rocker. The boy with the entire Led Zep catalogue. The envy of all discerning adolescent Grebs within a three-mile radius of Balfour Road. I played those bloody tapes to death and knew every single solitary note of every single solitary song and you cannot tell me that the manner of their acquisition didn’t play a huge part in my appreciation of that glorious canon. We sold our souls for rock ‘n ‘roll, all right.
As for making a compilation tape, back in the day, well, this was an exacting science blended with art. It was time consuming and deliberate and not just because of the mechanics involved; several different albums, tape deck and the removal and return from and to sleeve of all the different albums to procure the one song in question.
No, it was such a slow process because every, single song had to be considered most carefully. What, for example, was the theme of the tape? Was it poppy, commercial, American AOR (one side all up-beat major-key stuff and the other all the minor-key, angsty, keyboard-drenched ballads. Obviously, you’d never, ever under any circumstances, mix these up) that you’d keep on hand in case your Dad ever let you play it in his car on those long drives to the seaside? Something that might just, maybe, escape the scathing growls of “What a bloody racket! You can’t hear a bloody word they’re singing”
Was it ferocious, all-out assault metal for those times when nothing else would quite reflect the sheer zest and energy that is that collection of frantically raging hormones we dub teenage boy?
It might even have been a collection of obscure B sides and outtakes from a premium artist, put together for a mate, all the better to show off your infinitely superior taste and musical knowledge. As if you can leave matters of such weight to a piece of software?! Let’s not even talk about putting together a tape for the older woman in the school year above yours, for whom you carried a torch and an unrequited crush. That’s a whole thesis all by itself…
We worked hard for our music, back then. It consumed whole oceans of time, thought, planning and execution, never mind every available penny, to amass a respectable collection.
These days, the kids have it on a plate. Download it for free in the time it takes to boil a kettle and if it gets deleted by some error, well, no big deal, is it? Just download it again. Sure, I download. Of course I do. With glee and with gusto. But I’ve earned the right, God dammit! I’ve paid my dues.
The heart, soul and love of discovering music and really appreciating it, has been removed from the lives of an entire generation. The disposable, digital easy-come-easy-go generation. The ipod generation are missing out on a whole lifetime’s worth of the experiences that shaped, moulded and defined mine and that’s a shame of immense magnitude.
I don’t know what the answer is, either. We can’t turn back the clock nor should we want to and technology has bestowed undoubted benefits that we should appreciate. No question. But in a decade where consumerist fluff and the shallow, fleeting fifteen minutes of fame, via the X Factor or Big Brother are the aspirations of a generation, I’m deeply saddened by the that music is the latest casualty.
So, parents, do what my Dad did. Expose your kids to as much music as possible. Indulge every passing musical whim they have. If they want to learn an instrument, suffer in silence and let ‘em at it. Take the little sods to gigs, show them real, live musicians sweating up a storm and making glorious, organic, natural, live music. It doesn’t matter if it’s metal, classical, jazz or country as long as it’s real music and not synthetic, computerised covers of covers. Their lives will be the better for it. And yours will too. Trust me.
Some doubt the power of music to change the world. No one, however, can doubt the power of music to change lives for the better. For some of us, as Michael Monroe astutely put it, the choice really was “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Make sure your kids make the right choice.