Skip to comments.The Lost World of the Indie Record, Book & Video Store
Posted on 06/01/2011 12:25:28 PM PDT by GSWarrior
Brendan Tollers documentary I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store (2010) brings a good deal of personality and attitude (in the best sense) to the story of the demise of the independent record store, though it might just as well tell the story of the demise of the independent video or book store, all of which are victims of the same forces: box store encroachment followed by on-line revolution, all feeding the bottom lines of large corporations that dont particularly give a damn about records, or movies, or books. The restaurant business has been similarly decimated. Applebees anyone?
I am a fierce advocate of free-market capitalism, and yet I have to agree with Toller that something has gone wrong when Wal-Mart sells 20% of all albums and those albums are largely the work of corporate mannequins like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. My mid-sized Southern college town has one remaining used record store and one remaining used book store. Our last independent video store closed in December, and our Borders which drove out our independent book and record stores recently got a dose of its own medicine and closed amid a blaze of luridly florescent signage of the kind you associate with particularly tacky used car lots.
Ill have to explain to my young daughter how likeminded people used to gather in the flesh to mingle, swap notions and preferences, and listen to whatever was on the turntable. I will have to recreate the lost world of my youth, and tell how I roamed the second-hand record stores of Boston and Cambridge, spending hours in grungy mouse-holes like Mystery Train (named in honor of the Elvis tune), and how I timidly put my fourteen-year-old inquiries to the superior wisdom of pierced twenty-four-year-olds, who had, in fact, heard everything and evolved a real critical acumen. Between 1988 and 1992, I spent many procrastinative late afternoons at Cutlers in New Haven (still there!). I once asked the sagacious manager about Moby Grapes first album, about which Id read in The Rolling Stone Record Guide (before it annoyingly became the album guide). He said that the record was out of print but that he had a copy (of course) and that hed make me a tape. My tape was waiting for me the next day, as promised. You dont get that kind of service that degree or any degree of giving a damn at Wal-Mart.
I will have to convey to my daughter what an elegant physical object the long-playing vinyl record was: how heavy as it balanced on the fingertips, how mysteriously engraved, hypnotic in its rotation, poignantly delicate and prone to times different kind of engraving.
Explain also how eye-catching and sometimes beautiful album art was and how much the art mattered. Certain album covers were indelible objects of fascination. Blue Notes myriad masterpieces of cover design (see here) seemed to inscribe a whole worldview of avant-gardism and cool, a kind of visual code for high modernism in its African-American dimension. On more sober and mature reflection, I realize that Blue Note created one of the supreme caches of modern American design. I adored the Warhol banana on the first Velvet Underground album (1967) and the Mapplethorpe portrait on Patti Smiths Horses (1976). Its reasonable to surmise that album art, like comic books, filled a gaping visual void in middle-class American life and inspired countless young people to begin to think about the world in visual terms.
I will also have to explain that technology is not necessarily progressive and that the long-playing record actually sounded better.
I will have to explain, finally, that each record somehow told the story of its own history. In I Need That Record, Lenny Kaye, Patti Smiths guitarist, beautifully elegizes the LP as an artifact in this sense:
"Im a fan of the download. I like to hit enter and have the song appear on my iTunes within seconds, but theres something about holding the artifact, about feeling it in your hand. It reveals a lot about the moment in time that the record was made. An abstract song could come from anywhere, but if you see something in a twelve-inch vinyl LP, with the cover art, or you hear the scratch in the 78, you get a sense of time and place that is, for me, irreplaceable."
When my daughter asks what happened to record companies and record stores and to the records themselves, I will have to answer honestly, Im not really sure. Communism is a potential analogy: decades of self-imposed misery, the illogic of which was demonstrated by the almost instantaneous evaporation and repudiation of the offending system. Does capitalism have phases of communistic heartlessness and aimlessness and self-destruction? Perhaps we too will eventually exclaim, Good lord, what are we doing to ourselves, and our equivalent of the Berlin Wall will suddenly become the pile of rubble it was, in actuality, all along.
Fred Goodmans classic The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Head-on Collision of Rock and Commerce is a good place to begin an inquiry into what the hell has gone wrong (1998). I Need That Record updates the story.
Digital media have partially loosened the bottleneck created by the record companies, but on-line existence is comparatively sterile and un-educational in the broadest life sense. Its great to watch, say, Wanda Jackson or Hound Dog Taylor on YouTube (here and here), but theres no getting around the fact that you remain at your desk, not having had to foray into the world of sights and sounds and chance encounters. And, in any case, where are todays Wanda Jacksons? Where are the A&R men and independent record store owners working on behalf of the next Wanda Jackson, not because they want a spread in the Hamptons, but because they instinctively want to live in a world thats a little more spirited?
Here in Dallas, we have Half-Price Books, it’s like a museum.
The olden days are far too romanticized (always in in everything IMHO). A band would struggle for months or years, spend a huge amount on a “demo” hoping to capture the attention of an A&R person, and if lucky enough to ‘sign a contract’ had to sign over pretty much all the rights to their work.
Give me a world where I can write a song on Friday night, lay down some of the tracks, send the Pro Tools file to a bud 3000 miles away for lead or back up vocals, mix the damn thing and be selling it on Garage band or CD’s at a gig or market by Sunday.
I don't miss LP’s *one.damn.bit* Be it Mongo Santamaria or Mozart, trying to compile a complete collection used to take years and thousand of dollars and cleaning a piece of vinyl and replacing needles and dealing with insufferable nipplheads in record stores who wouldn't know Shostakovich from Scarlatti.
Actually, I think it’s more a case of free market capitalism eating alive a corrupted political system where content was chosen by a small group of overlords.
Sure the indie stores suffer, but even during the 90’s boom of small press and independent labels, they were using the same 4 distributors. Much of it was marketing.
So now, anyone can publish, and produce, with cheap tools, and the market has been flooded. The market realities are that the only products making money are mass market paperbacks, Imax films or huge budget Blockbusters, and Arena tours. A tiny percentage of material will slip through and defy that rule, but the reality is, it’s not just your friend and his home recording system who can’t get a break now...it’s legends with cult followings like Prince. It’s Hollywood studios and the Cineplex chains.
It smells like bum and surfer. Oh wait: sorta the same thing.
This is like someone who tinkered with engines in his barn back in the 1890s whistfully complaining about the easy availability of automobiles in the 1920s. We have the internet now, and it can give us whatever weird, crazy crap we want without bothering to find a little boutique.
I understand nostalgia, and, indeed, have fond memories of little, local treasures selling food, clothing, music, books, etc. that I was forced to go out of my way to visit. But when you get down to it, commerce is commerce. If I can get what I want without unique atmosphere and comraderie, all the same. McDonald’s and Wal-mart can take over the world, for all I care. I wouldn’t waste time crying for lost stores. Save the whistfulness for lost family, friends, community, art, religion, or whatever.
By the way, I realize “community” and commerce go together, to a certain extent. So don’t remind me. It’s just not a very important part of community, in my opinion.
Amoeba Music--used to be a bowling alley on Haight Street. Now it is the granddaddy of independent record stores.
Eh. I’m sure as convenient as a good Barnes and Noble is, you can appreciate a good mom and pop shop that carries interesting titles without needing to special order them. It really is a cultural thing also.
Think of it as the difference between relying on NY Times or Drudge, and having a Free Republic, or whatever else is in your bookmarks list.
“without needing to special order them”
That’s just the thing: it’s so easy and natural to “special order” things now that it’s no longer “special.”
“Think of it as the difference between relying on NY Times or Drudge, and having a Free Republic, or whatever else is in your bookmarks list”
I can’t get my head around this analogy, for my entire point was that the internet has made specialty shops more and more irrelevant. So the choice isn’t between the Times and the internet; it’s between the olden days of big name, regional, and local publications, and perhaps amateur papers and “zines” and the brave new world of the interwebs.
It’s cool, but even Amoeba doesn’t order everything any more, and doesn’t get the so-called DJ copies, which in the past it sold at a cut rate.
My point is, without specialty shops, you have a harder time accessing specialty content....unless you actively seek it out.
On one hand, you can find a book or film virtually any topic you can think of. On the other hand, with rare exceptions, a lot of good stuff slips through the cracks, and marketing controls what gets exposure, and turns a profit.
Now, you could say, it's back to the old days as far as open market, because musicians can produce and market their own CDs. The problem with the Brave New World is that there are no referees, such as old time producers, and the market, or the Web, is filled with trash more than ever. (Just see epitonic.com)
While we're at it, do yourself a favor and lookup this dude, and the David Wax Museum.
Frank Zappa hit the nail on the head:
One thing that did happen during the 60s was that some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded and did get released. Now look at who the executives were in those companies at those times not hip young guys. These were cigar chomping old guys who looked at the product that came in and said, I dunno. Who knows what it is? Record it. Stick it out. If it sells, all right!
We were better off with those guys than we are now with the supposedly hip young executives who are making the decisions about what people should see and hear in the marketplace. The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the artform than the old guys with the cigars ever were.
And you know how these young guys got in there? The old guy with the cigar, one day goes Yeah, I took a chance. It went out and we sold a few million units. All right. I dunno. I dunno what it is. But we need to do more of them. I need some advice. Lets get a hippy in here... So they hire a hippy. They bring in the guy with long hair. Now, theyre not going to trust him to do anything except carry coffee and bring the mail in. It starts from there. He carried the coffee four times so they figured they could trust him. Lets give him a real job. He becomes and A and R man (artists and repertoire) . From there, moving up and up and up... Next thing you know, hes got his feet on the desk and hes saying, Well, we cant take a chance on this because its simply not what the kids want and I know.
Good old days were always better. Remember Emperor Franz Josef?
The OTHER problem is that “indie” is also a way of saying “not overproduced”. But the INDUSTRY will still slip some faux “indie” acts into the public consciousness.
If I recall, there was a woman who had “viral” videos on Youtube playing her guitar in her kitchen. “Then” Disney(?) announced they were signing her. Except she’d already been signed and the videos were shot by her label.
The INDUSTRY can’t stand to lose control of their empire. So the pravda press is sure to give plenty of coverage to the latest “activity” from Lady Gaga, Britney Courtney Kee$ha, and hip hop gangbanger with a phony street cred bio. Anything to serve as a distraction.
Don’t even need CDs now, just go to selling digital downloads and song placements in tv/movie/advertising.
With a record or book, you have a tangible good. You have the right of resale. Not so with a digital download, you’ve bought it, that’s it. You MIGHT be able to get up to 3 REPLACEMENT download copied from itunes should your ipod/computer/cellphone/etc be stolen/break/get lost. Try claiming that loss of a music library with your homeowner’s insurance sometime...
The music industry doesn’t make money on the sale of used product and doesn’t particularly benefit from the prestige of rare records selling for $20-120-1200. They could always press more copies of the music (and in some situations, that would suffice to drive down the price of some rare R&B or rock single that was never released to an album). Some pioneering profiteers have taken to making their own bootleg pressings of obscure (but in demand) singles and compilation albums; some seek out proper rights payments, others just press the wax and try not to get caught.
Wax, shellac, and vinyl have gone through some format changes over time (cylinders of 2 playing lengths, pathe/edison/"standard" 78s (each played with a different stylus, Brunswick DID make a combination player). Even with the shift to wax there was a format war over 331/3 LP/EP vs 45single (or boxed album of singles). BUT in the end, dominant technology permitted you to play 78s from the 1910s-2011 LP/singles all on one contemporary turntable.
I question whether today's mp3s will still be supported by playing technology in 2110. And you certainly won't be able to reverse engineer a player from physical parts.
People will take the ease of a McDonald’s hamburger in the drive-through vs. preparing a balanced and enjoyable movie at home. They aren’t comparable experiences.
Instant gratification is the rage. Oh, and they want it for nothing. Not that the labels bothered PAYING their artists the money collected in their name...
The last time I know that the majors did that was in the 1990s and then they panicked and moved to the safety of boy and girl pop singers that they could market like the Monkees but without the depth or personality or staying power.
“dominant technology permitted you to play 78s from the 1910s-2011 LP/singles all on one contemporary turntable”
While it may be true that you have been able to play LPs on the same piece of equipment for that span of years, it is beyond reason to suggest any but the most assiduously preserved specific records remained playable for a similar span of time. For unlike digital ones, physical copies are prone to entropy.
It may be as you say, of course, that technology shifts will make irrelevant our digital copies. Be that as it may, almost certainly none of your LPs will survive to 2110.
“My point is, without specialty shops, you have a harder time accessing specialty content....unless you actively seek it out.”
My point is, I guess, specialty shops themselves represented actively seeking things out. If it became a habit to some, well, so can surfing the web. Only moreso, as it’s infinitely easier.
That’s only true if you’re from a town with nothing but big box chain stores.
The indie shops represented a community, a curated pick of quality material that wasn’t initially promoted in the mainstream. There were artists with regional popularity, or hometown support now.
You don’t get that with a massive database virtual store, flooded with titles that never sell a single copy.
Computer harddrives are prone to crashing and CD-Rs are highly unstable (10-20 year shelflife tops). Unless the digital files are forever flying around the web, the content will disappear from the face of the earth.
I don’t see why an unplayed record would not still be playable 100 years from now (apart from warpage which still could be tracked, even old 8mm films like the Zapruder film of JFK can’t run through a projector anymore but can be scanned in to reveal information (including the imagery that extended to the sprocket holes)). The plastic groves aren’t unstable or “prone to rot”. Accetates can flake, yes, but pressed vinyl, not so much.
I spent a career around jet engines. A close & play record player (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3mqNbgXxXE&feature=related) would give better audio than I can hear. I’m fine with downloading mp3s that I can carry in a matchbox sized stereo giving me tunes while jogging.
People have access to unlimited information on the internet. They are still idiots when it comes to politics, history, economics, science, and music.
Guidance and mentorship can be good thing. Doesn’t mean that you can’t discover some things (or truths) on your own. But wandering in a vast wasteland (or the warehouse at the Smithsonian) doesn’t mean that you will automatically gravitate to what you are looking for.
Life experiences provide understanding and context. Being told that some obscure cut is “good” may not sound that way if you haven’t heard “this” or grown up in that environment.
The signal to noise ratio of people hyping things has become higher than ever. And now we have hipsters for food called “foodies”.
No one would put up with their friend telling them EVERY meal what they had for breakfast, lunch and dinner the day before. On line, they think we all give a damn.
The internet music options are pretty much the same. You’ll be advised on a lot but you’d better have a good BS filter. And if you want to BUY something rather than just copy it, you still have to find a vendor.
Another way to look at it - the music industry hasn’t raised the technological bar. They should have pushed the tech standard to SuperCD and beyond. They should have innovated to deliver more compelling content made possible by the new technology. This they didn’t do and became a commodity in the process. I’m not sure what all the innovations should have or could have been - I guess some of these will emerge some day. Take Guitar Hero for example - basically someone figured out how to merge technology and music to create added value and the public ate it up. For the music industry to think that just sitting back and churning out 3 minute songs and that they could collect a King’s ransom in so doing seems wrong, certainly in retrospect, but also seemed wrong at the time.
Eh. So instead of the record store, it's just the local club that books the indie acts. You go to the show and then go home and download the mp3. To me, the best thing about mp3s is being able to buy a single track. If every artist was like Guy Clark and put out brilliant records start to finish, I wouldn't have a problem with buying the whole record. But even with artists I like, there's typically two or three tracks on an album that are worth listening to more than once. I'm not interested in paying $15 for two or three tracks. Lame.
I think he forgot how to go find them. It’s always been the case that indie stores rise and fall quickly, they lack the financial strength to survive setbacks, so the store you know and love tends to disappear when you don’t have time to go there for 6 months. That doesn’t mean they all died, just your favorite. Here in Tucson we’ve got a handful of indies, including an actual RECORD store no digital, but you can’t be surprised when one goes away, you just need to keep your eyes open for the others.
The problem with surfing he web as a way to find music, books or movies is on the web you find what you’re looking for, but rarely anything else. When you frequent a personally run media store you get exposed to things you weren’t looking for. You walk in to music on the stereo, the guys behind the counter get to know you and your taste, you run into other people and can chat with them. Some of my favorite bands I was exposed to because the record store guy said “well if you like them you should give these guys a try”, the web can’t do that. Amazon tries with “others who bought this bought” but it’s not the same as a person you see every couple of weeks. The web creates tunnel vision where the indie stores create buffets.
“it’s just the local club that books the indie acts.”
The problem is very few artists break even, or break out of just playing for their friends. It costs money to print posters, postcards, and drive to a gig. It still costs money to produce creative work on a level where you can make a living at it. Yes, some doors will open as a result of where things are going, but by and large, not even the big names are making money any more.
LPs are the only type of recorded music that dont require electricity to listen to.
I can’t argue with that, but I don’t really believe that thing were much different in the world before mp3s. There were still a bunch of people that wanted to play music for a living that were broke.
Just seems like this article is pure nostalgia. “Gee, wasn’t it great when I could go into the record store and find this great new band I’d never heard before?”
Sure, I guess, but I’d just rather listen to XM, hear a band I like, go on the Internet to the band’s website to see its tour dates and find when the band is coming to my city, buy tickets for the show on the Internet, and then download its album on iTunes. To me, that’s a heck of a lot better than standing in a record store with a set of grungy headphones that umpteen sweaty people wore before me. But that’s just me.
You must not have a Pandora account.
We have a good coffee shop, record shop, and hookah bar all in one. I just bought Music from Big Pink on vinyl.
Also, besides Pandora, there are a lot of music blogs that go pretty in depth to particular genres. I don't know your cup of tea for music, but two pretty good music blogs are Nine Bullets and Big Rock Candy Mountain.
I’ve played with Pandora, but with my music library it’s pretty rare to leave the playlist up to somebody else. 99% of what I remember about Pandora is that it had a really hard time accepting that I don’t like the Beatles, no matter what I started a list with the 5th song was always a Beatles song, I kept saying no but it kept pushing them anyway. It did remind me how much I like Joe Jackson though so it wasn’t a total loss. But it’s still not the personal touch. There’s a dramatic difference between the guy you see all the time at the record store saying “you gotta here this” and Pandora sticking it in some playlist you might not even be paying attention to.
Were you someone who actively sought out music before the Napster and Itunes era?
It’s definitely easier for the music fan, it’s just a different experience. Like home video or cable, that means more to chose from, and more access to the good stuff .... but ultimately, less good stuff, and the end of one culture for another.
Yeah, I don't like the Beatles, either. And it's gotten better. I found that Pandora is a bit better than Slacker with respect to the dislikes. I agree, though, the personal touch isn't there with Pandora.
But again blogs aren’t the same. That’s more of the tunnel vision, if you like genre X you might go read the blogs about it but you’re not going to go read a blog about a genre you don’t like or don’t know anything about. You could walk into a record store and hear anything, or be recommended anything. The web gives you what you’re looking for, the real world gives you what you didn’t even know existed.
And even more for me there’s just no reason to use it. Currently the MP3 library is 316GB, there’s a copy of it on the PC at home and a portable drive at work. For me to listen to Pandora I’ve got to be at a computer without the library, last time that happened the sister-in-law died and being the resident geek I was tasked with closing accounts and stuff, that was almost 2 years ago. I’ve never been much of a radio guy, I respect the technology of Pandora and it can be kind of fun to try to stump it (though I’ve never succeeded), but I’ve got the library.
I assume that you mean independent music, and the answer's no. There was an independent record store not far from my house that I would go to from time to time, but I found that they were overpriced and frequented mostly by stoners (it was also a head shop), so it wasn't a place that I spent a lot of time. I'd drop in from time to time to find an import or other record that I couldn't find elsewhere, but that's all. Today, though, my musical tastes have changed quite dramatically, primarily due to the easy availability of music on the Internet and XM (which, sadly, I found far superior to Sirius). I agree that it's easier, but I disagree that there is less good stuff. I listen to a pretty small niche of music, and I find that there is tons of great stuff being put out these days.
I'm not sure that I agree, and I don't think that there is much of a difference. The people that play the records behind the counter at a record store pick whatever grabs their fancy that day, same as the guy that runs Nine Bullets. It's a person playing music that interests them.
But hey, I've never really been into that scene, and maybe that's me. During college, I worked as a deejay at a radio station that played independent music. A few of the other folks turned me on to some interesting stuff that I liked for a bit, but I've just not ever been impressed when people say, "here, listen to this."
If you’re patient, you can find good new music on the web, but it requires lots and lots of patience. I used to go through hundreds of recordings on garageband.com and other now defunct sites where bands uploaded their tracks, and after spending hours listening I’d find a dozen or two gems which I then burned onto CDs to give to friends. That’s how I discovered Drive By Truckers a good several years ago.
I did this again recently on epitonic.com. (I don’t know any other sites like it, although this page which may or may not be up to date lists some: http://www.redferret.net/pmwiki/pmwiki.php) My method, if you can call it that, is to listen to the first 15-30 seconds of the track, sometimes even less, to see if it grabs me and go from there.
There are tons and tons of hard noise rock and whiny singer songwriter stuff out there, but you can find a few original performers.
That one might be interesting. In my early adulthood I worked next to what was at the time Tucson’s best used music store, and I was still living with mom so I had no where else to put my money. I always remember Jeff, who looked just like Bob Fripp on the cover of Red and was big into prog rock (so the look was at least partly deliberate), we could chat away the hours. When you hit the same place over and over the clerks get a handle on your larger musical taste, when they see you buying Black Sabbath one week, Tull the next, Neil Young after that and then Butthole Surfers today they know more about your musical taste than the guy at WalMart who didn’t work there last week and probably won’t be there next. These are the guys that can say “I know you don’t like country but you do like punk, let me put some Johnny Cash on for you, don’t think of it as country, it’s really pre-plugged in instruments punk” (roughly a conversation I actually had with a guy at PDQ, and I still listen to Johnny today).
To which I would add “Get out and go see some live music.”
We’re going to a house concert next Saturday.
“LPs are the only type of recorded music that dont require electricity to listen to.”
“The indie shops represented a community, a curated pick of quality material that wasnt initially promoted in the mainstream”
This is what boutiquers would like to believe, I suppose. But I never found it to be so. Every specialty store I’ve ever been to had a lot of dross to search through for the occasional diamond. I could always listen to the “community” that owned and/or frequented them, but less than an elite minority of quality curators, they seemed to me just another subset with its particular tastes.
The mainstream is inherently unfair, and I very well realize that for every Beatles and Stones there are a hundred bands who could have been as or nearly as good given the chance. Shakespeare is not the greatest English poet of all time; he’s the best of the most famous English poets. There is all sort of quality out there to be experienced of which most people will never be aware. Good for you if you can find trustworthy guides.
However, if I substitute music nerds’ bands X, Y, and Z, for Joe Lunchbox’s A, B, and C, do I really gain that much? Just how trustworthy are these specialty merchants? Are they like what we know as cultists, who merely replace the mainstream with an arbitrarily selected alternative mainstream? Yes, probably.
But that’s not really the point. I’m fine with something other than what happens to be advertised and stocked on shelves determining my taste. I’m fine with trusting a filter of connoisseurs, and a community therefrom arising. I only ask, does it have to be in a store? Can’t I hone my taste on experts and family, friends, acquantances, etc. and then go out and buy what I need? Yes.
“There were artists with regional popularity, or hometown support now.”
I don’t see as how this has disappeared with the rise of the internet.
I have to purchase the music I like online. It’s almost the only place where I can find what I like. The artists that I prefer are not very well known in most circles.
“However, if I substitute music nerds bands X, Y, and Z, for Joe Lunchboxs A, B, and C, do I really gain that much?”
It depends. There’s certainly another couple levels of fluff that’s all hype and flavor of the month hyping, but by and large, the people staffed at indie stores are well versed and eclectic, even if the idea of a tastemaker doesn’t impress you. There is a social element to exposing creative work, and as we know, relying on the internet has about as many benefits as it does detractors.
“I dont see as how this has disappeared with the rise of the internet.”
It just has. That’s a fact. Authors mainly write books for other authors, and their friends. Bands burn out their home audiences, and can’t support themselves on touring unless they get licensing deals, or invited to big festivals. Massively popular artists like Jay-Z, U2, REM, and Madonna are signing 360 deals. Someone like Prince doesn’t even have a label right now. There are only about 8 Hollywood actors who can guarantee a film gets financed now. That’s a new reality within the last 5 years, and the market realities trickle down. Barnes and Noble refreshes it’s shelves monthly and return what doesn’t sell for a credit. The mom and pops often keep a product on the shelves until it sells. An internet database is an endless flood of buried content.
“People have access to unlimited information on the internet. They are still idiots when it comes to politics, history, economics, science, and music.”
Well, yeah. But commerce isn’t about refining taste; it’s about getting what you want most efficiently. According to that standard, the web beats specialty shops hands down. You may argue that specialty shops helped educate taste and raise people above the level of idiots. They did. But as I’ve been saying, commercial enterprises, however refined and rarified, are poor substitutes for actual community.
It’s not the Athenian agora at your local Alternative Record Store. At best its nerds lording over their fiefdoms.
“But wandering in a vast wasteland (or the warehouse at the Smithsonian) doesnt mean that you will automatically gravitate to what you are looking for.”
No, but how about we talk about these things with our actual friends, family, etc.? How about if we form friends and mentors on the basis of what consumer goods we have in common these become actual friend/mentorships instead of convenient acquantancships which pop into use only when we cross the threshold of the store entrance? How about we use basic things like author’s own bibliographies and recommended reading lists to guide our readership, for instance? The back pages of our favorite books are no wastelands.
“Being told that some obscure cut is good may not sound that way if you havent heard this or grown up in that environment.”
I agree in that music is something to be heard with other people. Much morseso than it was meant to be experienced alone, at least. But why does said environment have to be in a store? Stores are primarily for buying. Even the ones that you hang out in regularly for hours on end. You could just as easily be hanging out elsewhere listening to the same thing with real friends, acquantances, and friendly strangers, especially in the age of the internet. I realize in the past you might have had to go to the local record shop to hear that sort of thing, but no longer.
“The signal to noise ratio of people hyping things has become higher than ever”
Yes, absolutely. But I’ve never been on board with the sort of people who see the alternative as a true alternative to the mainstream. To me it’s always seemed but a smaller mainstream. A consensus for people who don’t necessarily like the larger consensus. Give me the unlimited wasteland of easily accessable information for me to shoot through like a rocket-car on the salt flats any day.
“And now we have hipsters for food called ‘foodies’”
I once read that a gentlemen never discusses food, and I think it’s a noble point.
“No one would put up with their friend telling them EVERY meal what they had for breakfast, lunch and dinner the day before. On line, they think we all give a damn.”
For clarity’s sake, let me state emphatically that I do not see internet communities as substitutes for commercial communities, let alone good, old-fashioned regular communities. The internet is not a vast wasteland, it is a cesspool. That is, if you’re looking for contact with other humans. If you’re looking for a tool to help you buy things, on the other hand, it is unbeatable.
“if you want to BUY something rather than just copy it, you still have to find a vendor”
LEt me not speak for music, which is not my main area of interest anyway. So far as books go, the internet has opened up a world of easy perusal and purchase impossible in the popular local used bookstore in the college town I used to live.