Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Thoughts on the Future of the CD…

This past weekend, I did something out of the ordinary.

For the last year or so, I have been avoiding the purchase of CDs. Partly because I had so many in my collection that, in order to provide for the safety of my coming marriage, I had to sell off big chunks of my collection.

But also partly because of the change that is occurring all over America: That more and more, people are making CDs irrelevant (and record stores close) because of the rapid rise of using the music to download music.Certainly, I have done more than my share of that.

On Saturday morning, I went to a garage sale in my neighborhood. Much to my delight, in a box filled with used CDs selling for 50 cents, I found one of my favorite albums from 1982: Donald Fagen's The Nightfly. I already have all but two songs from the album on my iPod (and in my computer), but I figured it was time to actually own the album – if only because the cool cover made it worth the two bits I would be paying my neighbor.

I don't think I ever owned the physical album, but I certainly borrowed it enough from friends who owned it, the radio station where I worked or the local library. I admit I got a certain sense of smug satisfaction from finally having it in my hands as my very own.

Then I took the booklet out of the CD case and sat down with it.

Now, as far as liner notes and presentation go, there's nothing special about The Nightfly. As you might remember, it's a loose concept album that uses the optimism of the Eisenhower/Kennedy era as a starting point. As Fagen himself writes in the "liner notes:"
The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early sixties , i.e., one of my general height, weight and build.

I was amused by this passage. I was also entertained by facts long-since forgotten in my overfilled brain. Among the contributors to the album were both Brecker Brothers (Michael plays that nice tenor sex solo on "I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year)," Valerie Simpson (backing vocals on five of the album's eight tracks), guitarist Larry Carlton, bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Jeff Porcaro and even the ever-present Rick Derringer on "The Nightfly."

Play "I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year)" by Donald Fagen

Play "The Nightfly" by Donald Fagen

I also had a good time reading the lyrics, which are always important when Fagen is trying to make a point.

That got me thinking: Some time in the very near future, when CDs finally disappear (and they will, believe me), we are all going to lose out on an essential part of the music-listening experience.

You can point out the fact that there will always be AllMusic and the hundreds of lyric sites all over the web. But the fact is, all of these sites produce second-hand information – and they don't always get it right. Thousands of mistakes are floating all over the Internet because they weren't posted right in the first place. Where do you know that 99.9 percent of the time, it's going to be factually accurate? That's right. In the original source: All those CD booklets that are going to gradually disappear in the coming decades.

I know. I know. We went through a similar change a few decades ago when CDs supplanted vinyl albums as the medium preferred by the record-buying public. Album artwork became less important, the enjoyable experience of opening a gatefold album cover went out the door, the colorful record labels became less relevant and even the pleasure of contrasting side one of the album to side two disappeared.

But I'm warning you: The change on its way will be more profound than anything that has happened before. Setting aside the fact that there may never be an Abbey Road (1969) or Pet Sounds (1967) released ever again (let alone concept albums like The Nightfly, the whole experience of listening to music is about to get less enjoyable.

And that makes me sad.

So do yourself a favor. Buy a CD soon (perhaps even by clicking on the Google ads that surround my blog). Prolong the pleasure as much as you can.

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