When it comes to the current state of music, I have to agree with King when he once sang “The thrill is gone,” (sounding better on vinyl album). I’m not one to compare one era to another and declare either greater; music is an art form that must forever progress whether we’re fans of those changes or not. I’m speaking about the way we, as aficionados, relate and consume our music, when I claim the thrill is gone. Let me explain.
I’m a member of a unique generation. I was born into what some people only a few years younger may call a world of Luddites. Our music became convenient as technology approached, though vinyl LPs and turntables were the norm. As is usually the situation, what we gave up in substance, we offset in handiness.
But what makes my generation unique is that we entered a world with technological limitations yet embraced any and all advances. Presently, I enjoy my iPod. I admit it. The prospect of thousands of songs at my disposal is brilliant. And let’s accept it, dragging crates of records, aside from turntables, amps and speakers together with me is just simply unfeasible. Yet, drenched in a sea of MP3s, torrents and burned CDs is the very lore that made music such an important part of my life.
Vinyl Albums – complete with the cover art, jackets and linear notes – were more than just a collection of songs. They provided a special introduction to uncountable artists, doorways by which you felt a deeper relation to their music. Every vinyl lp was a case study where you’d go by with the lyrics in that idyllic marriage between the written word and melody. You learned who wrote the songs, who produced them, where and when they were recorded and any other bit of information you could store away in your memory banks. Even the sequencing, that little nod from artist to listeners that said, “This is how I’d like you to hear my music” was important. Listening to music was a dynamic activity, hardly an impassive second thought.
Now we’ve traded songs titles for track numbers, cover art for skins and perhaps the worst of all, quantity for knowledge. I’ve discovered many records in the past year that I’ve absolutely appreciated. Yet, beyond a name of a band and perhaps the name of the vinyl album, I don’t have much for you. I can tell you which tracks are my favorites but to name them would be just an educated guess. I couldn’t pick them out of a magazine. I can’t even tell you their names. They are faceless, nameless, a sheer collection of phrases. I can pick and choose the songs I like, destroying the lost art of the album. The thrill, B.B., is really gone.
If this is the tragedy of digital music, then it is a miserable ending: the lost feeling of a combined culture that we experience through music. The bragging of our iTunes libraries and the mere analytics of bit rates contradict the reason at hand. They’re a red herring, a path that only leads to true heartbreak. I desire my music to have heart again, to have a soul, to be mine. I want it to be human again.