Virgin No More

Yesterday I believe I said goodbye to record stores. I hit the Virgin Records at Union Square, with 6 days to go before they closed. I’ve been downloading songs online like everyone else who isn’t just stealing the songs, and yes, I’ve been stealing, ripping records from the library, having friends burn me songs, but for the most part I pay. I do think that musicians should somehow get money for the quality material they produce. I rationalize because I’m poor and because for many years I was single handedly keeping the music industry afloat. I used to buy CDs and barely listen to them before I had to have something new. I had to slow myself down. Then I fell under the ninety-nine cents a song spell. I started to differentiate between album artists and singles artists. That’s good for my pop and hip-hop intake. A bad Beyoncé song, or a bad rap can really drag an album to a halt. Rock duds you can space out to, letting an album breathe. Some hook that doesn’t work calls attention to itself, and becomes irritating.

But the truth is that I don’t listen to albums anymore, it’s the radio of my entire catalogue that I listen to, or a random shuffle of a large batch of new stuff. Still, I’m old enough to believe in the idea of the album, and cheap enough to like the idea of getting fourteen songs for $9.99 instead of $13.86. Yes I did have to use an Excel sheet to calculate that. So what?

So I finally downloaded an entire album, The Rosebuds’ Birds Make Good Neighbors. I’d fallen for a song “Shake Our Tree,” and I thought I’d like the whole thing. Also got Crowded House’s Woodface, a sentimental favorite of The Girl’s. Then I got Toots and The Maytals Greatest Hits. Wonderful stuff! Even if I didn’t listen to albums all the way through I could still buy them. Just not at a store.

It’s a different thing, buying a record at a store, and last night wasn’t that different thing. It was a fire sale at what was always a music mall more than a record store. Kim’s Records is still probably there over on Avenue B, in greatly diminished form. I’d already made a sad trip there, and I may again. But the gutting of this giant music hall really felt like the end of retail music, maybe because the place had never had much soul. Kim’s was like watching someone you love suffering a stroke, this was mass murder.

Picked over, but I still had to find me some 60% off bargains. Did I want The Cure’s greatest hits, or would I just download three or four tunes to represent their entire body of work in my life? The latter I’m afraid, sad little Cure fans. Did I want to take a chance with The Doves, a band I’d heard good things about but hadn’t heard? The fact that there were so many Doves records left was an argument against them, and that the listening stations were all off left no argument for them.

No I ended up with some Les Savvy Fav album, just to show I found something relatively new. Show who? Me? And Rod Stewart Gold, a collection of his early stuff. Yes, kids, there was a time when Rod Stewart actually made songs sound better. If you’ve seen the British version of The Office, it’s a bunch of that kind of stuff. Steve Miller’s got two greatest hits, one with more songs for more money, so I took the one with less songs, because that record with the horse on the cover is all the Steve Miller you need. Maybe I’ll download “Abracadabra” just to annoy people. A Nick Lowe Greatest hits compilation with forty-nine tracks! Should I just download Jesus of Cool? No, I want “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding” and the popular version of “Cruel To Be Kind.” Also, there’s got to be eight more tracks of worth on that record.

 

And that’s what I’m saying goodbye to, for the most part. Those unknown tracks. That’s what an album purchase can give you. Surprises. Disappointments. The Rosebud’s kind of didn’t light me on fire with their perfectly decent record. Will I be so willing to scoop up a record’s worth of songs, if I can’t find ten tracks that sound great in thirty second samples? I think it’s going to be one at a time for me. There’ll be a new business model, some day. Radiohead can afford to give it away, but that seems like a tough road for the rest of us. Still while we wait for some way to fall in love and get surprised again, the corpse of the old model lies rotting in Union Square, with five more days for the flies to eat.
–Dan Kilian

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