It’s interesting, really, how this prompt would have been insensible to everyone but shoplifters, some 20 years ago.
Claim I’m dodging the issue, call me morally devoid, consider me some advocate of theft and awfulness if you like, but… I’m not going to use this prompt as a jumping-off-point to delineate my opinions on sampling, piracy, bootlegs, mashups, free use, the RIAA, DRM, or any other amalgamation of letters. Nope! Because that would lead to critiques of the entire industry and the artificially-high costs of physical media, and then I’d have to bring up how little buying power people have, and tie that back to wage stagnation, and soon I’m lamenting the entire economic state of affairs. SO.
Instead, I’m just going to answer the actual question, at face value.
I don’t tend to get – or listen to – entire albums, just individual songs. Heathen, I know. So the last albums I bought weren’t for me at all.
As I’ve said, my parents tend to be… technologically reluctant. A little moreso than mere financial prudence would require. It was a long time, relatively speaking, before we got actual Internet. Another long time before they upgraded from the 28k modem to the 56k modem. Only a few years ago that they upgraded to the lowest, cheapest “broadband” package AT&T had to offer – the kind that could barely even qualify as broadband at all, and actually may not fall under the FCC’s definition of “broadband” starting today, pending an FCC vote. The kind where, when you went to a website, you had to wait a while for the pictures to load.
But, some months ago, after quite a long span of consideration, my father essentially decided to get his money’s worth – to whatever extent AT&T would actually allow – and upgraded to an actually decent broadband package.
And so, to usher them into the world of the modern Internet – where videos are as standard as pictures, you can flawlessly stream an entire movie on your computer, and live video chat from your wireless device is positively quotidian – I bought them both mp3 albums on Amazon.
For my dad, Jimmy Buffett’s “Songs From St. Somewhere.” I grew up listening to “Songs You Know By Heart,” as I’ve already mentioned. It was an album of roadtrips and warm weather and weirdness. Sure, it held anthems for blue-collar adults, pining for barefoot retirement in the tropics, contenting themselves with Hawaiian shirts and margaritas on a Saturday night. But that wasn’t so far off from an elementary school oddball’s wish for an eternal summer vacation. And the music was so often fun, some of it outright verging on novelty music, which was squarely within my wheelhouse. Not so much Dad’s, though, who preferred “A Pirate Looks at Forty” or “Son of a Son of a Sailor” over, say, “Volcano” or “Fruitcakes.” But he didn’t seem to absolutely dislike the sillier songs, for some inscrutable reason, though he never seemed to have much regard for anything else comedic or silly or strange. So the music bridged a sort of generational and attidudinal gap. I suppose it was rather fitting to use Buffett’s music to bridge yet another one.
Which of the songs caught my ear the most? Hard telling. “Something ‘Bout A Boat,” perhaps, if just because it’s the first track on the album. But… perhaps “Einstein Was A Surfer,” in fact.
It evokes Garret Lisi, as well, surfer and physicist, and his E8 Theory of not-quite-yet-but-maybe-soon-hopefully-Everything. Scientific practicality twined with “slacker” surf culture – a surprising confluence of rigor and fun. It’s the same kind of dichotomy that I found in my dad’s enjoyment of Buffett to begin with.
For my mom, I bought Florence + The Machine’s “Ceremonials.” I don’t even know what compelled me to look up their music, exactly; for the longest time, all I’d heard had been “Dog Days Are Over,” and even that was in a mashup. I liked it well enough, sure, but I’d just never pursued anything further. But I needed something to listen to while I was working, found it on a YouTube sidebar, and so it was. I realized it fell into just the sort of patterns I like: often starting quiet and simple, just a chord and a voice, but building up to something orchestral and bombastic. Which made me realize it was the kind of thing my mom would like, as well. The lyrics are a little dark and brooding, which suits my mom as well, what with her fondness for murder mystery novels, forensics dramas, and those 60s teen tragedy songs – but also a little theatric, as well.
It’s a bit hard to choose my favorite, but – at least for the moment – “Shake It Out” is a strong contender.
I know Florence + The Machine have had fair mainstream success, but I just haven’t listened to the radio or watched TV in so long that I’d never have really known. I’ve only ever heard them online. So, while buying my dad an Buffett album in mp3 form was a way of bringing old media into the modern day… Florence + The Machine was entirely modern. Music I’d never heard by traditional means, and that my mom hadn’t even heard of.
It was interesting, and a little strange, to have gone from listening to my first CD on the living room stereo to standing in the living room and helping my mom download her first mp3s, before helping her set up Pandora on her new Kindle Fire. Even taking their reluctance into account, it still seems like things change so quickly. Though it’s not exactly been a short span of time.
It’s my sense of the progression of time that’s quickening, if anything, as I age. A sense that, I still believe, has less to do with age itself and more to do with how much novelty and change you’re exposed to. I’ve nothing to back it up, really, but I believe that the brain can slow down the sensation of the passage of time in order to unpack more information from a novel stimulus. The first day of school or work always seems longer; the first time you see a commercial or a movie, it seems to last longer. You’re taking it in as it comes, not anticipating what you know happens next. So perhaps, if I keep a closer eye on changes, if I keep myself aware of developments in technology, in science, in life at large… perhaps that will make the next set of *AHEM*ty-one years seem to pass, if not more slowly, more savored.