by: Douglas Grant
Every Tuesday night I listen to Tony Touch’s show Toca Tuesdays on Sirius XM. It’s a mixtape session of hip-hop featuring artists both old and new and usually has some great special guests with live in-studio performances. I was listening to it the other day when I got really into this one song I’d never heard before. It was some kind of collaboration between Method Man, B Real, and some other guy I didn’t recognize, and it had a sick beat. Now normally Sirius XM will tell you the names of both the artist and the song, but since this show is a mashup of Tony Touch’s picks, it just says Toca Tuesday on the screen. I wanted this song. I had a plan. I pulled my car over to the side of the road because I don’t want to be one of those scumbags who play around with their phones while driving. I went to my Shazam app and let the program have a good listen to the song. It only took a few moments for Shazam to look up the song. It was on an album by Proof where Method Man and B Real were guest MCs. There was a link right there that took me to iTunes so I could purchase the song. Within two minutes of hearing a great new song I pushed three buttons on my phone and I now own the song. It was so very convenient, and equally as efficient. And yet it had me wondering—as technology often does—if this was a necessary convenience. I juggle the pros and cons as I consider how that situation would have played itself out in an earlier, simpler time.
Not likely that I would have heard it on the radio, but let’s say that I did. The first thing I would’ve done would be to ask around my group of friends to see if any of them had heard it too. I’m sure at least one of my boys would have been as enthusiastic as I was and accompanied me uptown to the Record Express on the East Hartford border to pick up the CD. We would’ve made a day out of it. We probably would’ve stopped along the way, either to load up on Chinese food or maybe to go puff underneath the bridge that ran over the Connecticut River. We might’ve picked up a few more of our people on the way. Upon arrival at Record Express I would’ve immediately opened up a dialogue with the store manager, someone who knew my taste in music well, and would’ve had the line on some hot new shit that I’d be into. His word was bond back then because this was a time before you could scan an album and listen to it in the store. But he would never steer you wrong, and you usually left with a few extra CDs that he’d pushed on you somehow. He was good like that.
Now I own the album and I’m heading home. The first thing I do is to throw the CD into my car stereo and bump it as loud as my weak ass speakers will allow before I blow out the bass completely. The temptation would’ve been to skip to the song I’d heard on the radio that had enticed me to begin with. But no, I’m a firm believer in the artistic integrity of the album as a whole, and I appreciate an album more when I come to understand the subtle cohesion it takes for it to flow smoothly from one song to the next. And of course I may not like every track, but it will take a few listens before I’ve made a definitive judgment. The point is that every song will get a fair listen. And anyway, that’s how I’m conditioned because tapes are not too distant of a memory at this point, and with tapes you can’t easily skip around songs or search for hidden tracks.
I’ll open up the jewel case and maybe I’ll come to love the album art more than that of any other CD that I’ve owned in while. Maybe the lyrics will be listed, but then again maybe not. Maybe in the credits I’ll be pleasantly surprised by a contribution I was totally unaware of, and maybe this will be a lead on what I want my next purchase to be. I used to love to hold that shiny jewel case in my hands. I still do.
Most likely the album will be played out within the week. If it’s an album that I’ve grown particularly fond of and is dear to my heart, then it will take a little bit longer than that before I put it down. I can only hope it doesn’t get too scratched up and become unlistenable. I need to take good care of it. Years later I’ll be sitting in a bar or watching a movie and I’ll hear a song from that album. Almost as powerful as the way your sense of smell will trigger the resurfacing of distant memories, hearing these songs may just blow the doors off of some vault in the part of your brain where faded memories reside. Being taken back like that sometimes makes me think that’s as close to time travel as we’ll ever get.
These days I’m loathe admitting that I don’t become as intimately acquainted with an album as I used to. I’m currently striving to remedy this disconnect. The other day some song popped up on an iTunes Genius playlist, and I had no idea what it was. It turned out to be a Deerhunter song from an album that I’d listened to about a thousand times. I guess I never used to get through it all the way. I think the reason that I didn’t download the digital booklet is because it took up too much space on my computer. And the song from the Proof album featuring Method Man and B Real? I just bought the song. I probably won’t even give Proof the chance he deserves on his own merits. And even though I recognize this, it’s still a damn shame. All hope is not lost though. I still believe in the strength of the album as a whole. An album tells a story that a few highlighted tracks never can.
Anyway, I’m a lot older now and there’s never enough time in the day. Today the idea of spending an entire afternoon tracking down one little piece of music is ludicrous. And yet I miss the days when the search for an artist’s work could facilitate such meaningful human interactions. The same could be said about waiting in line overnight for concert tickets, or going to Tower Records and perusing the aisles before a midnight release. Life has become far more convenient, but have we lost something along the way? It’s really not for me to say. What I will say is that I’m glad that my life’s path and growing up coincided with the exponential growth in technology in the last ten years. I knew a time when things were different, and I entered adulthood with an appreciation for those simpler yet more time consuming days.
I used to come to know and love an album after it was “released”. Now I strive to attain this same familiarity when it “drops”.