A Meditation Inspired By, If Not Exactly on “The Four Aims”
I had the pleasure of spending last weekend combing New England - not for anything particular, just combing - on a rock and roll tour with the rock group Bunny’s a Swine. Enumerating the ways in which it was a pleasure would be tiresome since you can likely imagine, at this point, what the pleasures of a rock and roll tour generally entail, but among these many, unenumerated pleasures was that of listening to this song, “The Main Ingredient” from the Flower-Corsano Duo’s record “The Four Aims” on a real vinyl record. (A word of warning that I’m not really gonna talk much about this actual song here. I’ll do that another day, maybe. It is a world’s worth of music and worthy, in my estimation of a Ken Burns documentary or Steven King novel or something.)
As much as I love this record, I don’t own it. This is largely because I don’t make a point of buying records I really want but instead haphazardly and whimsically collect them, truly collect them, I think, picking them up based not on my desire to listen to them, or really to have them, but on some other impulse often related to an intersection of, at any point in time, how loose I feel with my cash and how excited I am about the idea of listening to records in general. For the most part I’m satisfied with Spotify, and low on dough.
It’s a shame, though. Listening to records has become a thing I’m supposed to do of late - living as I do in Brooklyn, being as I am a white dude in the right age range, playing as I do in a band, professing as I do to have a discerning ear when it comes to tunes - but I have difficulty getting into it. Part of it is the object itself, which people talk about fetishizing. I can see this, I can see the appeal, but most people I know who listen to records regularly aren’t the sort who obsessively catalog, preserve, and treat records as museum pieces, so while I may be expected to be a hipster, that doesn’t seem to mean that I’m expected to wash my hands before I touch a record. What we’re talking about then, is not my aversion to object worship, but just stuff in general, an aversion that is more theoretical and practical more than it is real. I have stuff, but in a perfect world, I tell myself, I wouldn’t. So that’s one thing. Another is that I’m lazy, and that my stylus seems to collect dust more intensely than any I have ever encountered elsewhere. To play vinyl is to disrupt the flow of whatever else I’m doing, while courting the anxiety that my tracking weight is too high, that I’m ruining my records by playing them too hard. I have records, and I do play them, but really only on special occasions.
What we have in this case, is a truly special occasion, then. Towards the end of a morning spent listening to records - George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, a cover of “Ram” - I find myself, in a house full of people, basically alone in the living room with a Califone record playing that nobody really cares about. I find “The Four Aims” and freak out a little to myself. Turning to the other soul in the room, I proclaim how awesome this is. He shows interest, but leaves the room a minute or two in, and I settle in to bask in the flow of notes.
It’s not about the act of putting on the record, it’s not about the object itself, but, of course, you stupid asshole, it’s about actually listening to the music. I may rant about how MP3 bloggers have perverted music discourse, turning a beautifully open medium into yet another shill, but in focusing on the effect on criticism caused by a valuation of pure dissemination over thought, I have long ignored or dismissed the fact that the medium is as much to blame, perhaps, as the method of using it. Not that I can totally disavow the MP3, or digital music in general, and not that I would even advocate that they be disavowed, but I would, upon reflection, urge myself and others to separate from them from time to time. The medium that supplies the material appreciated colors the experience, and changes at least slightly that which is appreciated. There is value in the rapid fire nature of streaming, the concision of digital collection, but the analog event is worth experiencing, maybe not for some crusty old “it sounds better” or even “it’s about the ritual”, but at least because it’s different from you what you do at your fucking office.
Music becomes a soundtrack, simple background noise too easily when it is treated as something to turn on and off at will, regardless of setting, so I’ll take a moralistic stand on wax from a position I have too rarely seen: to listen to vinyl is to fight the good fight against turning even our most profound music experiences into wallpaper. Of course, I’m still broke, so there’s that.