Apple TV – Apple’s latest innovation, which promises to do for video content what their iPod did for sound – has me thinking about obsession and the attraction of the unobtainable.
When I was 17 and deeply in the hold of a raging music addiction, I spent endless hours in the shallow basement of a local clothing boutique poring over the plastic-jacketed sleeves of LPs, searching for a few gems. I had a list, cobbled together from my equally obsessive reading of Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and whatever books on music I could find. I wish I could remember exactly what was on it, but suffice to say there were a dozen or so recordings that I had read about that held the promise of unlocking the doors to an unknown universe. I know for sure Muddy Waters was on there, because I remember arriving home with a copy of a stunning double-LP collection of Chess singles called McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy Waters, putting it on and hearing the primal guitar of Jimmy Rogers and the harmonica of Walter Jacobs combine in a way I’d only imagined. It’s probably safe to say that Elmore James was on the list, too. Rounding out my interest in seminal electric blues was early John Lee Hooker, driven by a wonderful description of a solo Hooker recording (probably by Pete Welding) that compared the sound to something cut into a roofing tile using a dull nail. I had to hear that!
Anyway, there I was in that basement record store with my list, getting that distinctive greasy, dusty feeling on my fingertips by pawing through the bins of LPs on display. Salesman John Pivas was cool because he’d let you play whatever caught your fancy (thanks, John!). As well as finding those records on the list one by one, I discovered countless others that spawned more lists. I was a veritable prototype of the character Nick Hornby wrote about in High Fidelity – actually more of a stereotype (which is a delightful pun when you think about it) because it turns out there were thousands of us out there.
While I know there are still 17-year-old obsessives, I can’t imagine they savour the same thrill of the hunt, unless they are completist collectors – a different breed altogether, more interested in acquisition than music. With whatever you want to hear just a couple of mouse clicks away, the hunt becomes more, What do I need to hear? rather than, Where can I hear this?
This isn’t meant as an old fogey’s rant against technology – I embrace innovation – but those kinds of list-driven scavenger hunts fuel the imagination in a way that instant access can’t possibly. Hearing Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains Running” 10 seconds after realizing that you want to hear it, can’t possibly be as satisfying as hearing it at the end of long search.