in order, from start to finish…

so this afternoon, i call dylan from work to check in…i had a couple of errands i wanted to run afterwards, and i wanted to see how dinner was going to factor in to it all.

i got him on the phone and told him that i needed to pick up a new USB cable for my iPhone (i had given mine to jayda over the weekend because hers went south on her)…and dylan tagged my sentence, “…and pick up the new gnarls barkley album.”

(for those of you who don’t know dylan personally…this is his way of indicating interest.)

so i filed that away, finished up, and headed home from work.

he came down the stairs not long after i walked in the front door, and i said to him, “dude…i can pick up that record for you on iTunes if you want…” – i thought he’d prefer that, since he’s not one to smile on the prospect of actually having to leave the confines of the car, where shopping or even going out to eat is concerned. his answer kinda blindsided me.

“no way. it’s not the same. they’re not in the right order or anything.”

they’re not in the right order.

now, most parents might actually write this off as a bullshit argument, but i felt like i was given the honor of bearing witness to an epiphany. he actually demonstrated that he understood that there was a degree of significance to the running sequence of what us old farts call an “album”.

i still call them albums, or records. as far as i’m concerned, both terms – when applied in the proper context – are still relevant. maybe not to someone like kanye or 50 cent…but to an artist who still creates music to be enjoyed as a body of work, it’s absolutely relevant.

i wrote a long essayish post on the velvet rope a while back about this very subject – about how huge the difference was between how we consume music now, and how we consumed it a few decades ago, and how that difference in and of itself was a huge part of why music simply isn’t as important to people now as it once was.


“…see, when we were kids, just the process alone of buying music was totally and completely different.  we would make a special, conscious trip to a specialty store that sold these prepackaged, circular pieces of vinyl called “albums” or “records”.  those terms, to me, came to mean “collections of music”.  jackson browne said in an interview that he still called them “records”, no matter what the format…and he cited a leonard cohen song, with in line in it – “I hope you’re keeping a record” – to illustrate his point about how songs are snapshots of moments in time, taken for the purpose of sharing them with someone.

so we’d go to this “record store” – this place that sold only records – where there were literally hundreds of albums by every kind of artist…country, jazz, folk, blues…but mostly rock and roll.  we’d look around the store at the posters and the “flats” of the new releases on the wall, listen to whatever was playing over the stereo while we flipped through the large, twelve inch by twelve inch album covers.  there was cover art, there were liner notes, there were lyrics often printed inside the fold.  we’d peruse the stuff we weren’t familiar with, perhaps take a chance on something that might have triggered a gut instinct, an intuition that we should be taking it home – and sometimes we were wrong, but when we were right, and we discovered something exceptional, it was like finding a chunk of gold in the bottom of the pan after spending hours standing in the creek, sifting through mud and silt.

usually, though, when we went to the store, it was because the new album by our favorite band had just come out, and we’d managed to save enough cash to buy it and we couldn’t wait to pick it up to hear the songs that we hadn’t heard on the radio yet.

we’d take it home, tear the cellophane off the cover, pull the record out, slip our headphones on, and lift the needle and set it on the vinyl at the edge of the album.  then we’d sit back and listen to the songs pour off the needle and into our consciousness while we read the liner notes, stared at the picture of the band and thought about how much they’d changed since the last album, sang along with the lyrics, wondered about people like bill symczyk and glen johns and roy thomas baker and val garay and so on and so forth…and wondered how they got those sounds, how they got the drums to sound so monstrous and the guitars to rage like animals and the harmonies so angelic…

…and then, when it was over, we’d flip the album over and start again.  sequestered in our rooms, we became intimately familiar with this new collection of music from this artist, this band…whether new to us or old favorites, and it managed to weave its way into our brains.”


now don’t get me wrong….i LOVE iTunes. i love the instant gratification of being able to buy something with a few clicks and carry it around with me on my phone. where i believe the disconnect to be is that i grew up with a certain kind of humble respect for music, for the power of music…and i’ve come to believe that my particular reverence for music is bred over time. and…AND, if you’ve come of age in an era where music has always been a few clicks away, then the ease with which you’re able to acquire it doesn’t necessarily make it precious to you in a lot of instances.

hopefully, you’re one of those people for whom music provides spiritual nourishment…you’re someone for whom it gives you something that you simply can’t get anywhere else. it touches you, it communicates, it gives you tools for expression and words to explain things that you feel that aren’t going to come from anything else. if that’s you, you’re a truly blessed individual.

if that’s you, then it probably doesn’t matter how you acquire music.

but there’s a growing demographic for whom music is wallpaper. it’s something that runs in the background, a silence eliminator that accompanies their reading, their meals, their drive to work. they notice it, but in much the same way as one of us might notice a different slipcover on the sofa, or new drapes or a different floral pattern on the tablecloth.

and now that i think of it, it probably doesn’t matter how they acquire their music, either.

here’s what i’ve noticed about myself…and my hunch is that it applies to a lot of other folks, as well.

when i was younger, and listened to most of my music either on vinyl, or on cassette recordings of vinyl, i was a much more patient listener. just as the case can be made that we were probably less inclined to change the channel on the television when we were limited to the networks and a TV with no remote, we were certainly much more patient with music when it wasn’t so easy to hit the “skip” button and move on to the next track after giving our crippled attention spans thirty seconds or so of a song and demanding that it turn our heads within that amount of time or else.

can you imagine how many classic songs would have been banished to obscurity by the “skip” button?

subterranean homesick blues….skip.

iron man….skip.

rocky mountain way…skip.

dazed and confused…skip.

anything by pink floyd….outta here.

riders on the storm…g’bye.

black magic woman….later.

don’t even try to talk to me about freebird.

each and every one, candidates for the skip button within the first 30 seconds.

these are songs that, for a few more years anyway, are part of our musical consciousness. when you say “freebird”, you don’t even have to say “skynyrd”, anymore than you need mention led zeppelin when you say “dazed and confused”. but, it has to be said, none of these are cut from the catchy-little-ditty cloth that most popular music springs from nowadays, and there’s an awareness on the part of people who churn out music for mass consumption now that you’ve got a very narrow window in which to reach someones’ gut. i don’t know that there’s any data to back this up, but i’ve come to believe that a big part of why you hear the proliferation of crappy, reactionary, and/or offensive lyrics nowadays is because people have given up on trying to grab their listeners from a melodic standpoint, and they resort to lyrical masterpieces like kanye’s “gold digger” or gretchen wilson’s “redneck woman” to try to reel people in – which is not to label either of those songs offensive…but it’s hard not to feel that there’s a conscious effort being made to say something right out of the gate that gets your attention on a level that neither of those songs would be capable of on their melodic merits alone.

(this is not to say that there weren’t some lyrical turds in the classic rock era, by any stretch. just sayin’.)

in my own case, i listen now and then to music that i’ve managed to unearth from whatever source from the years when i was dylan’s age…and sometimes find that i’m underwhelmed by it. sometimes, i can write that off to my accumulated knowledge and experience and the fact that i listen to music differently now than i did then. sometimes, i’ll find something that rings a similar bell and be amazed that i’ve managed to go this long without reconnecting with it. the one constant between then and now is the degree of importance that it maintains in my own life…and i’ve always lamented, to a certain extent, the lack of importance that it’s seemed to hold for dylan.

not tonight, though. after we stopped by the AT&T store, we walked up the mall to FYE and i watched him march up and down the aisles until he located his prey…we took it to the counter, then out to the car…i watched as he ripped the cellophane from around the jewel case and put the CD into the stereo as we took off for a drive out to morgantown to hit the sonic for dinner.

he opened up the tray insert and folded it out, marvelling at the artwork…we actually had a conversation about the order of the songs, and whether or not they were tied together in a storyline, what the sequence meant…

the sun was just starting to go down…which, totally coincidentally, is my favorite time to be on that stretch of road. we hit it just a little past its prime, but the sky was still brilliant as we made our way out the expressway.

some of the songs he’d heard already, some were brand new to him – thirteen in all, and we drove out past elverson to take in the whole record before we went to eat. i didn’t say a word the whole way out, except to remark on specific instances in specific songs (“man…the sounds on this song come right out of superfly-era curtis mayfield..” or “someone was paying attention when ‘what’s going on’ came out”. that kinda stuff.).

it has to be said…the new gnarls barkley record is pretty doggone good, you betcha. i was expecting to tolerate it, but i have a lot more respect for those two today than i did yesterday. they embrace melody instead of sidestep it, like so many in their genre do. they respect the concept of a song (as opposed to the concept of a beat) in a way that’s been overlooked for so long that it becomes refreshing all over again. i don’t know how many more times i’d pop it in myself, because it’s not my thing…but “whos’ gonna save my soul” is a fuckin’ classic. check back in 20 years and tell me that i’m wrong.

it was an early christmas present for me…cost me less than $20, and worth every penny. i got to watch him seesaw back and forth from excited to contemplative to pumped up to subdued…and for about forty minutes as the sun was going down, i was driving myself around in my passenger seat.

so, to recap:

CD – $17.00.

two number twos with huge slushies at sonic: $14.80.

bearing witness to the seeds of inspiration….


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