Lester Bangs' Basement: What it means to have all music instantly available.

Pop, jazz, and classical.
April 19 2011 11:55 AM

Lester Bangs' Basement

What it means to have all music instantly available.

(Continued from Page 3)

Still, it's all fun, and back in the day it could, sometimes, give one a thrill, like when a band in concert, say, played a song you knew but the rest of the crowd didn't. Those days are probably over. But I also know what fans don't always admit: That the vast majority of the rare stuff wasn't all that good. It was rare for a reason, however much the collectors and completists talked it up. A good rule of thumb is that if the fans (or the PR person) are talking about how you're hearing the music rather than the music itself, the music might not be that good.

It's probably still theoretically still possible for something to become rare—if only a few fans have digital copes of this or that movie, a few years could go by with no calls for it on the torrent networks and it might fall out of sight again. It might take just a few discarded hard drives for it to be come inaccessible. But again, with many terabytes of storage easily available to fans—and now with cloud storage becoming the norm—that's pretty unlikely.

In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, the poet Dan Chiasson wrote at length about Keith Richards' autobiography and made an interesting point near the end, about how scarcity and rarity, long ago, actually fueled artistic endeavor:

[T]he experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity; and all the ways we regard things we want but cannot have, in those faraway days, stood between people and the art or music they needed to have: yearning, craving, imagining the absent object so fully that when the real thing appears in your hands, it almost doesn't match up. Nobody will ever again experience what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger experienced in Dartford, scrounging for blues records.

Point taken—but let's remember it's a small sacrifice. I have this or that fetish object—the White Album on two 8-tracks in a black custom case, for example, or a rare Elvis Costello picture disc. And I remember the joy of the find. But it's hard to feel bad about the end of rarity; didn't a lot of the thrill come from feeling superior when you had something others didn't? You really want to get nostalgic about that? We're finally approaching that nirvana for fans, scholars, and critics: Everything available, all the time. (Certainly Richards and Jagger would approve.) It's not an ideal state of affairs for a rights holder, of course. But for the rest of us, what is there to complain about? 

For more on how the Internet has corrupted the thrill of the hunt, read Matthew J.X. Malady's Slate essay " Eureka Lost!"

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of NPR and Salon. More at www.hitsville.org.

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