I visit www.jazz.com. with some regularity, and I’ve even had my own blogposts featured on it. A good deal of what is posted there is not my thing, but some of the content is fascinating.
Today I encountered there an article published in the Guardian by the popular British novelist Nick Hornby on the death of record stores. That isn’t a particularly original observation: everyone who’s bought even one record during the last half-century could write similar articles about the phenomenon.
Hornby proposes that new pop-music blogs that offer MP3 downloads are the new local record stores, and that the internet has become a global music market. I can’t say much about the first proposition, because I don’t find twenty-second musical snippets valid enticements to purchase, but the second is surely true.
But this casual pronouncement made me sit up straight:
After my local CD shop closed down, I was getting ready for a musical life that turned in on itself, before dying slowly from malnutrition. Any piece of music becomes drained of meaning and excitement if you listen too much to it, but a three-minute pop song isn’t going to last you a lifetime. Popular music needs to keep flowing. If the fresh supplies stop, it’s you that becomes stagnant.
I am enthralled by this terminally short attention span: “Any piece of music becomes drained of meaning and excitement if you listen too much to it.” This hunger for new sensations clearly isn’t just Hornby’s artistic immaturity; it defines contemporary culture’s glorification of disposable ersatz-Art, novels that exhaust their ingenuity before the reader is well into chapter two; music that bores the listener on the first hearing. (It all sounds dismayingly like a dystopian restaurant where the food is stale as soon as it leaves the kitchen.)
I don’t know: I’ve been listening to Lester Young and the 1938 Kansas City Six, to Louis and the Mills Brothers, to Billie Holiday and Count Basie, to the Blue Note Jazzmen . . . for almost forty years now. And if I were to hear one of their recordings now — even though I could hum along with it, knew the solos and the accents by heart — that music wouldn’t be “drained” for me. The next time Hornby comes to the US for a book tour, I hope he’ll accept my offer of music that doesn’t grow old. I’d be glad to share some Teddy Bunn and Bessie Smith records: they should restore him!
The full text of Hornby’s piece can be read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/06/nick-hornby-mp3-record-shops