I bought a used copy of 69 Love Songs on Saturday.
This, in and of itself, is not exactly notable. After all, the three-disc Magnetic Fields album is one of the gems of the late 1990s, a magnificent gender-bending opus of love, loss and everything in between. But it’s not as if I haven’t heard 69 Love Songs before. It’s been sitting on my hard drive for five years and, to date, its 69 tracks have accumulated a total of 422 plays in my iTunes (33 of them for the greatest of them all, “Papa Was a Rodeo”). I’ve even made a playlist of my favourites that I call “28 Love Songs,” a number chosen so it would fit on a CD.
Often when I buy an album that I already have downloaded to my computer, the main justification I give myself is that I want to make sure to support the artist in question gets paid. But this was a USED copy. Stephen Merritt didn’t make a dime on this one; any profit went to the good folks at CD Plus in Halifax.
Besides, get this: if I bought the record from iTunes (so Mr. Merritt and company WOULD get my money), it would have been $5 cheaper than what I paid for my used copy.
What the hell is wrong with me, you ask?
I wish I knew. I’ve been trying to come up with an explanation for my continued commitment to the purchase of physical music for some time. While many music geeks have made the transition to the digital age with ease, I stand out like a walking anachronism, drifting in and out of record stores where the real estate is increasingly being taken up by DVDs and video games.
This whole thing would be easier to handle if I were only buying vinyl. Vinyl geeks are totally kosher in the music snob hierarchy because they’re so committed to the physical sound that only analog rubber-to-stereo sound will do. But while I do buy vinyl regularly, I just can’t stomach the extra $10-20 for a record all that often. This leaves me, the CD geek, stuck awkwardly in between two worlds, lacking both the cred of the vinyl geek and the cold utilitarianism of the digital geek.
So be it, I guess. I’m convinced that – on the whole – we value music less without a physical connection. The extra effort involved in going to the record store, sort through the stacks and pick out an album generally means that I’m going to give it more of a fair shake than I would something that I pressed two buttons to download. Instead of hearing through my so-so computer speakers or my beat-up headphones, a CD will almost always reach my stereo first and get its first airing loud and amplified (and it certainly won’t be only 128 kbps). And best of all…the liner notes. The glorious, glorious liner notes.*
And so it is that we’ve come to this – me, sitting in my apartment on a Sunday night, listening to songs I’ve heard a hundred times before. Do they sound the same? Yes. And no. Maybe. I really don’t know, frankly. But I’m listening to all three discs of 69 Love Songs, straight through, for the first time in years. Maybe that says something…
*I know I probably haven’t convinced you of this “we value music less without a physical connection” idea; I’ve got a post I’m working on for later this week that also touches on the idea a bit, but I still welcome criticism on it in the meantime.