This is going to sound like stating the bleeding obvious, but bear with me: This huge fuss with the recording industry and MP3s is a real vindication of how powerful all this digital stuff is.
Told you. But. I’m thinking about it compares to what people used to do, copying music onto cassettes. When I was a kid I used to tape stuff off the radio all the time. My first tape began, I think, with Ian Dury’s Hit Me and passed through a ditty by Worzel Gummidge on its way to Abba’s Super Trouper. The novelty wore off after a few tapes of (obviously) variable quality but in 1993 I thought maybe I should start taping off the radio again. I guess I was really enjoying some things I was hearing only once, and wanted to capture things for longer. So, over the next six years I filled up eighteen 90 minute tapes. See how anal I am?
If I had to choose between those tapes and my 3-400 CDs, I’d probably go with those eighteen cassettes. Yeah, there’s one or two pretty dodgy tracks there which I can’t now erase, highlighting one of the problems of all that old analogue, linear tech. But the rest is more or less wonderful. Even better, I’ve listened to it all on Walkmans over and over, with small segments of tapes instantly bringing back memories of places and times. The PJ Harvey tracks on tape 1 reminding me of being in America for the first time, standing in a New England car park at dusk. That Dog on tape 3 is walking past a car showroom on the way Bristol Temple Meads station. The start of tape 9 while delivering leaflets to Southville’s terraced houses for the local Labour Party. Tape 12 walking down Tooley Street after a day’s work at Wired. You get the idea.
A lot of my current Napster activity is tracking down MP3 versions of all these songs, which seems a little nostalgic rather than cutting edge, but it’s great to hear them all again. Some day I’ll work out how to rescue all those unique session recordings from their aging plastic and safely give them a new digital home.
I had a vague point somewhere near the beginning. While six years of taping all this music from the radio didn’t bother me in the slightest, grabbing exactly the same tracks as MP3s makes me feel like a little fugitive. If John Cusack spent his downtime in High Fidelity burning CDs of MP3s to give to friends, rather than making mix tapes, there’d have been a huge fuss from the recording industry about encouraging criminal activities. Which highlights how much more scary all this digital stuff is for them. Because it just works so much better. And, yes, it still sounds like stating the bleeding obvious.