Thursday, December 15, 2005

The times they are a-changin'

The other day I finally broke down and purchased an iPod. When I took it out of the box I held it in my hands and just looked at it for a while. Then I caressed the white plastic, played with the menu options, and (once I had finally figured out how to get the software working correctly - don't ask, that's another story entirely) downloaded a few songs. The convenience is astonishing. Whenever I hear a song on the radio that I like I can download it to my new iPod instead of buying the whole album, saving myself about $14. Its like the good old days of cassette singles only cheaper and better quality. But I'm torn. Am I sacrificing the total music experience for the ease of a small piece of technology?

I grew up with albums - that's vinyl for those of you born after 1984, not cassettes. First it was my parent's records... Pink Floyd, Cream, The Beatles, and my favorite Big Brother and the Holding Company "Cheap Thrills". Some of my favorite memories from childhood are of listening to those albums for hours. When I couldn't convince my Mom or Dad to put a record on for me I would stare at the album covers, particularly Big Brother's famous "Cheap Thrills" album cover designed by R. Crumb. When I was old enough to have my own albums and record player I had moved into my musical theater phase - Grease, Annie, Sound of Music. The first albums I bought with my own money when I was a pre-teen - and I'm almost embarrassed to admit this - were Men at Work and Bonnie Tyler. I can't believe that my Mom didn't throw them out the window after hearing "Who Can it be Now" or "Total Eclipse of the Heart" for the 200th time! Soon after cassettes became all the rage (great for taping songs off the radio - our own early version of Napster) and then it was CDs, but I never gave up on vinyl entirely.

A few years ago the hubby bought me a record player. You know, one of those players that looks like an old-fashioned record player but isn't. I was really excited because now I could take all those albums out of storage and listen to them again. I hadn't gotten around to replacing them with CDs so it felt like I was visiting some old friends. The first one I grabbed was, you guessed it, "Cheap Thrills". The artwork was still spectacular and the distinct smell of plastic and cardboard was still there. Then I put it on the player, cued up the needle... and the quality sucked. It didn't just suck, it S-U-C-K-E-D. It was scratchy and the sound was horrible. Soon after I went out and bought the CD. And soon after I finish writing this, it will be in my iPod.

I'm sad because I feel like my daughter will be missing out on some of the things that used to make music special. Gone are the days of album art, at least in the mass media. When was the last time you really looked at a CD cover? I'm still going to hold on to my records and, when she's old enough to understand, I'll pull them out of storage and show her what Mama used to listen to when she was a little girl. And then we'll listen to their music on our iPods, because records sound really bad in comparison!

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