Monday, 22 July 2019

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Fixing Holes

Forty years ago in Montreal I had a record store route. My stroll could be a social or solitary activity and often used up all of side one and a portion of side two of a fine day with nothing else planned except for a night of listening and liner notes.

Times have changed and I am no longer the fanatical and devoted consumer of recorded music I used to be. That admission should be qualified. From The Turntable in Victoria’s impossibly narrow Fan Tan Alley to Back Alley Music on Charlottetown’s Queen Street, I know where the record shops are in every Canadian city where I’ve spent more than a night or two. I have a dreadful hunch that should I traverse the country on an insane music buying binge, the number of stores I’d patronize would be less than the number of loitering stops along my old Montreal route.

Though the record industry had dodged previously perceived lethal threats to its existence such as the advents of commercial radio and home taping (remember too that newfangled record pressing technology supposedly sounded the death knell of sheet music publishing and printing), it became plump low-hanging strange fruit ripe for digital disruption, a victim of its complacency. Everything got broken, shattered, shoo-doobie.

Artists are now laughably under-compensated for streaming and YouTube plays but unintended consequences eventually shake down to main streets: white-washed windows. Record shops are few and far between these days. The few I’m able to frequent, where you can smell the cardboard and the dust, tend to be cramped spaces and so inventory is limited and browsing becomes a sort of elaborate ballet of murmured niceties.

I’ve neither qualms nor quibbles paying a few dollars more for something as marvelous as Bruce Springsteen’s new Western Stars at my indie record shop. That release is a treasured addition to the music library I’ve carefully assembled and curated since Elton John lost his mojo and Mick Taylor quit the Rolling Stones. Now when I shop for records I mostly think about fixing holes in the collection, plugging gaps. Jimi Hendrix has never really knocked me out but a home without ‘Hey Joe’ and ‘Crosstown Traffic’ is just a house.

This mildly obsessive thinking has led to something of an uneasy alliance with Amazon. While I prefer to part with my money live and in person, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to get what I need on familiar avenues. Conversely, I understand that a virtual marketplace such as Amazon allows local retailers to infinitely expand their businesses provided their stores aren’t already boarded up.

Buying music on Amazon is a joyless experience, like filling out a form. There’s no satisfaction, the thrill is gone. Everything I want is just a click away. That earlier era of my life spent haunting Montreal places like Dutchy’s Record Cave, Rock en Stock and Phantasmagoria, always open to the stuff in the new releases rack and the catalogue bins when everything was new to my evolving tastes, is gone. Still, I’ve managed to approximate that 20th century feeling to some extent in the 21st. Over the course of a period of months I compile a list for Amazon. I then order enough discs to qualify for free shipping which usually requires multiple shipments to the Crooked 9. The next step is nothing: I purposely ignore Amazon’s tracking updates so I’ve no idea what’s coming by which carrier when; the torture is exquisite even as every new day teases the promise of new music and accompanying liner notes.                           

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