For those of us who straddle both pre- and post-internet realms, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to make the simple choice of what to listen to when you're faced with so many options. Streaming services foist "if you like ___, you'll like ___" algorithms into your listening spaces, not to mention ads. To figure out what your friends are into, you only have to hit the follow button rather than seek out a time-consuming conversation.
The risk with streaming services is that your choices aren't wholly intentional. And music is so intrinsic to each of our identities. Do we really want that identity molded even a little bit by an AI bot plotting world domination in a cold server storage warehouse somewhere, utilizing reams of code authored with data collected on Spotify user behavior? Not me! (Well, not all the time, anyway, except the part about AI world domination; then the answer is an emphatic "NOOOooooooo.")
And when you click a button rather than hit up a friend for a conversation, you're going to miss out on stories that go along with music suggestions. Case in point, a recent music discussion with a longtime friend of mine, Josh:
I'm technically a digital immigrant (pdf) who, rather than bemoaning the prevalence of technology, daily whispers sweet nothings to the magical elves toiling away on my behalf in my computer. I love technology with a fervent passion, especially because it makes my job and life in general more exciting and gives me boundless opportunities for creativity. Even though I work in a highly information-rich environment, I google all the things and get all the answers in .45 seconds rather than run up and downstairs to google the physical info housed in the library's stacks. That would be weird.
But even though I love the ease of access to everything, music is the one place where I do get nostalgic for the olden days, and pine for that experience of making a New Album Pilgrimage. Whether or not a New Album Pilgrimage actually occurred relied on a number of variables.
How to make a New Album Pilgrimage
Keep your finger firmly on the pulse. You had to be cognizant enough of the artist to be aware that they had a new CD out. That meant tuning into various channels of musical info, including, but not limited to:
- Radio stations, in my case the legendary "Killer Bee" B96 or Q101 Chicago's Alternative, where the DJ would hopefully mention the upcoming release date
- Visit a resource-rich record store (that would possibly be Wax Trax! Records prior to 1995, Reckless Records thereafter) to pick up a copy of Maximum Rock n' Roll or peruse the flyers.
- If the artist in question is mainstream enough, maybe they'll show up in the mailbox via the BMG catalog without your parents absconding that contraband first
- MTV. Honestly, though, MTV didn't really have my back in the early-to-mid-90s. By then I'd graduated beyond such sellout stuff as that. *insert dramatic, too-heavy-with-the-eyeliner eye roll* Actually, here you go:
- Be thrifty. Save your money and scrounge together enough loose change for El or bus fare before making a trip to buy the physical CD from the nearest record shop
- You might actually want to go ahead and get a job to support your music habit. You need access to batteries for playing your Discman and/or maintain access to your stereo privileges by not being so reckless with your teenage rebellion that your parents get hip to it and take away the one thing that sustains youuuuu
- Be on time. If it's a highly anticipated album, arrive at the record store the moment it's stocked, otherwise risk waiting another week or two until the next shipment of inventory comes in, then make the trek all over again (highly unlikely).
- Wait a sec. Is this my version of the curmudgeonly "uphill both ways, through the snow" speech? I think it is!
So, if all these factors were present, I got the CD and took it home, gnawed my way through the difficult shrink wrap packaging, listened to it once, twice, a billion times, till its lyrics were lines in the play that was my life, its liner notes worn as my thrifted Chuck Taylors, and its melodies a part of my genetic makeup.
Music spoke for me. It told others who I was. In the pre-internet age, what you listened to was a choice stemming from attentive cultivation of taste. You had to be intentional about music. You had to work for it, and there was a sweet reward at the end, far sweeter because of the sweat you put into it. <-- OMG I think I just said that hard work is rewarding. I'm basically my father now.
First song played on my hometown alternative radio station, Q101, and 25% responsible for styling my teenhood angst-ridden person-self? "Friday I'm in Love." Perfect.
From a time when Michael Jackson's legendary status made us listen up, before the man's life got to be a little like watching helpless as a train hurtled toward a wreck. "Remember the Time" is a memory ignition switch. Or, hey, remember the soundtrack to Free Willy? OMG :O
1994 Liz Phair is one of those spiritual beings who still sits on my shoulder egging me on.
Who is this childlike person with the unfamiliar accent, ethereal, intelligent artsy pop, and mildly disturbing music videos?
-Leah Sewell is a Marketing Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.