Friday, 3 May 2013

Obsessed with the Mess

As you may have seen, this week's Sundown Six – I was going to go with Sunset Six, because, sibilance, but there's apparently an Australian Film called that, so good for them was lovingly handcrafted and picked by the wonderful Tex Ranger.

(Guest pickers are going to be a regular feature from now on, so if you would like to be one, get in touch.)

I asked Mr Ranger this week because, out of perhaps everyone I know, he has the most amazingly diverse tastes in music and the will to seek out the interesting stuff.

This is what I miss. 

And it's why this blog was created, with the intention of addressing that.

So it got me thinking.

When I stopped being a music journalist – well, a 'music' 'journalist', and that's important, but we'll get to that later – it was around 2003. (Oh, sure, I hung on and tried to keep it going, but, kids, we were still pretty much in the Physical is King era, so it was a matter of begging things from recalcitrant but occasionally understanding record companies for review).

Then I gave up. I'd still buy albums from the local HMV – now sadly departed, and now and then I'd go on a 'how much can I get for £(X)' trawl, which yielded some interesting stuff (and here, Asobi Seksu, I'm looking at you) but, to be honest, my heart wasn't really in it.

Now, way-back-when, there were nascent file-sharing networks. I remember Napster, and Kazaa, and maybe even LimeWire, but I had the same mental block about using them then as I would about torrenting now; call it stealing, call it copyright infringement, call it what you like and try to justify it if you want, but it's theft. If you think I'm a moralist with a stick up my arse and a misunderstanding of technology, then that's your right, but there's something to add to this:

Being A Moralist Restricts Your Choices.

Because I don't like the idea of taking without paying – I know, right? - and, concurrently, because I'm stoney broke – my music choices are restricted primarily to what I can afford after everything else. Considering that I'm a recovering DVD addict as well with occasional relapses and, technically, a gamer, and things get difficult therein.

Youtube, then, is currently acting as a kind of methadone for an addiction that went away on its own ten years ago – withered and atrophied because of issues of access. So is Spotify, but here's the main problem with moving from zero access to untrammelled access; my brain can't cope.

I've been to the USA a few times, and I love it there. Everything's bigger and wider and wonderful, and there's much less reserve in people than here in Britain.

But every single time I've been, one thing would cause my brain to crash to a confused bluescreen of cognitive dissonance; the amount of choice in everyday life you have to contend with.

Just buying breakfast was a problem – once you narrow it down to one item out of the fifty or so, then there are fifty options to go with that item, and fifty ways to do it. Refrigerators are filled with hundreds of drinks of all shapes and sizes and dietary options. At one point I was presented with over a hundred ice-cream choices and settled on orange and licorice because my brain had actually shut down. Now, to your everyday Joe Citizen, that's just a fact of life; you pick something and get on with your day. You have something you like, maybe, such as puerco pibil. You just sort it out and move on.

Even with experience of living in London, and all the choices that could come with that, my brain simply stopped working. (Much to the confusion of the other patrons, I might add.)

I faced a similar situation when I realised I wanted to get back into music; my brain is having trouble wiring itself to cope with the fact that if I can't find it on Spotify, then YouTube will probably have it, or iTunes, or Amazon. There's even a specific cachet about finding something you can't buy on MP3, for me, such as Elizabeth and the Catapult, who I had to track down on CD from – shock – America.

So having shut down my music brain – or, at least, put it in safe mode – when I re-awoke to this brave new world that has such downloads in it, and streaming, and videos, and access, and free, free, free – it was the equivalent of trying to watch a hundred TV channels at once when all you want to see is re-runs of Bullseye.

In Transmetropolitan, the equivalent is people revived from cryogenic stasis however many years into the future and then pushed out the door into an unrecognisable world; their brains go into shutdown just to cope with the new reality in some way. There's no help for them, no therapists or psychologists or programs of gradual exposure, because the future doesn't give a fuck.

That's how it felt, and still feels, to some extent, because there's a concurrent problem; I'm starting to feel that wonderful feeling that I'm assuming comes with getting older (if not necessarily any wiser) where, frankly, new concepts and technologies and programs make me slightly fearful, if I'm honest, in that at any one time I'm never entirely sure if I'm understanding what's going on, and suddenly the rug's going to be pulled out from under me.

I'm sure this happens to a significant proportion of every generation – although there's a corollary, in that the number of people in older generations just getting on with it and learning this new Skype malarkey (and I've only discovered that in the past month or so) is just as high as those who don't want any of that high-faluting fandango of a farrago of nonsense. Shenanigans.

So now I have all the choice in the world as to finding new music. I just have no idea how to use it.

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