The Road to Recovery

this is catharsis.

There are few things in my life less satisfying now than going to a record store.

I saunter through the aisles of my neighborhood Tower Records. I never buy anything. Nothing I want is there.

What’s the point? Every single album I could conceivably ever want is right here, right now. The click of a few buttons. For free. One day I will announce to my children’s children: from 2000 to Jesus Christ-knows-when music was absolutely free. They will drop their hoverboards in disbelief.

Back in the day, in the year of our lord 2 Anno OK Computer (sorry) I used to practically have a cot set up in the back of that Tower Records. My friends and I would plan extra-special trips to New York City to hit up Rebel Rebel and Other Music, stalking the streets of Bleeker and West 4th as hipsters-in-training. I loved collecting CDs. I loved organizing CDs. I loved spending my meager paychecks as soon as they were cashed at Tower Records on CDs. I loved CDs.


Now, there’s a $25 Tower gift certificate burning a hole in my wallet I’m probably never going to use, that I would probably give you for $15 straight cash.

This is catharsis.
This is confessional.

Downloading music has lead to the dawn of a new age in self-perception. The word solipsism—meaning a person’s unpremeditated and involuntary insistence to behave as if there is no outside world—is wildly thrown around by bloggers and pop-culture intellectualists alike as we happily drown in the paradoxical layers of irony and self-awareness. Many music appreciators I’ve found like to glorify their behavior; crawling into one’s head and painstakingly poring over the mundane. They refer to themselves as solipsists, but these people aren’t solipsists.

Remarkably wonderful daydreamers? Yes.

Misanthropes? Yes.

Assholes? Probably.

But solipsists? Hardly. For one, if you claim to be a solipsist, then you aren’t.

Walking around the block listening to the new Mogwai record doesn’t make you a solipsist. And walking around the block listening to the new Mogwai record so people will see you walking around the block listening to the new Mogwai record most definitely isn’t solipsism.

Because even then you aren’t really by yourself, are you? You’re secretly hoping people are staring at you. You with your oversized headphones, that feigned pensive-introspective expression on your face. As lonely strangers pass you by, you slyly glance out of the corner of your eye. What are they thinking about me?

Don’t assume because you love obscure music, you will be seen as mysterious. No one has ever been impressed.

Don’t confuse your desire to be seen as mysterious with solipsism.

And by you I mean me.

This is catharsis
This is revelation.

There used to be this record store called Kemp Mill in the D.C.-area a few years ago. I remember when Napster first dropped I hadn’t quite grasped the concept I no longer had to spend money on music (shots of tequila I’ve since found to be a far more worthwhile expenditure) and I would stroll down there to peruse their rather paltry selection. I can distinctly remember some fat-ass clerk talking to some guy saying he was “into downloading” but “couldn’t imagine it replacing his love of the CD.” He loved the liner notes. The casing. The artwork. Seeing it there in his CD rack.

Seeing it there in his CD rack.

I know now this way of thinking was a complete crock of shit. There’s no way in hell this guy cared about liner notes, artwork, casing. It was all about that rack.

That CD jutting out of that rack.

A friend or stranger walking by and noticing it.

Like the practice of “casually leaving” a rather obscure CD laying around your desk or coffee table for friends or strangers to see. Or maybe one of your less informed friends, perhaps a comely young lass, hopping in the shotgun of your ‘91 Mazda 626 - you turn the ignition—Whoops! I didn’t realize how loud I’d been cranking the new … Travis! (import only at the time). Oh, you’ve never heard of them comely young lass? Oh, I think you’d really like them.” (You have since revised your life’s history to omit this period of your life when you liked Travis).

Or perhaps, when you were 18-years-old, you even drove out of the senior class parking lot, windows down, cranking Kind of Blue.

What are they thinking about me? They’re probably quite impressed with my collection. I’m rather certain my eclectic taste in music is forming their sure to be positive opinion of me. They find me intelligent. Sophisticated. Knowledgeable. Maybe a little bit mysterious.

Can we now at least agree this is/was just an atrocious way to behave?

If downloading music can rid us of this terrible habit, we are truly evolving.

Or we must find new ways to be fucking assholes with our music! Hence blogs.

This is catharsis. This is relapse.

Is there a difference between performing interpretive dance at a wedding and not caring, screaming at your reflection on a packed subway car and not caring, or performing for your stuffed animals and convincing yourself they are really enjoying the show?

Downloading music has actually created a new paradigm based on solipsism’s opposite extreme—allowing people to convince themselves there is an audience reading their thoughts, be they mundane or insightful, who find them meaningful or at the very least interesting. Instead of ignoring the judgments of the outside world this new paradigm allows us to create an outside world, an interested audience. Like an overly enthusiastic radio disc jockey talking to no one and everyone at the same time, bloggers and music journalists and pensive headphone-wearing nightwalkers can convince themselves there are people out there who actually care. There may actually be, eventually, an audience, but whenever we start blogs, we proceed under the assumption there most certainly already is. I find this to be utterly fascinating.

My friend has a blog that she updates fairly consistently. However, and the rest of this may push your wig back, she refuses to reveal to anyone what the address of her blog is. She continually enjoys proclaiming the amount of words she’s written (nigh 23,000 at last count), but none of these words have been read!

I find this to be highly enlightened. Because what my friend is doing either consciously or unconsciously is actually shunning an audience that doesn’t even exist. In many ways this could be seen as the ultimate in indie-rock posturing. And my friend kind of despises indie-rock, which I suppose, on some levels, only enhances this as the ultimate in indie-rock posturing.

This is a simple clever observation.
This might be confessional.

Could there be a correlation between downloading four full often yet-to-be-released albums a day and my newfound affinity for shoplifting? If music is free, why can’t Mach 3 razorblades be, too?

I’m assuming the local drug store will fail to see my logic.

This is catharsis.
This is denial.

The iPod is ruining everything!

What am I supposed to do now? Huh? Clumsily “forget” 70-page printouts of my iTunes library on co-workers’ desks?

Don’t you see my dilemma! Having all my music stored and listed on an iPod prevents me from being a passive-aggressive asshole about my (admittedly not really all that fantastic) music taste. That’s fucking up my essence, man! What am I supposed to do now?

Honestly, how on earth will there ever be a social situation in which a stranger will casually get to peruse my iPod? To say, “Ah. So eclectic. So diverse. He has the entire Kelly Clarkson album downloaded! But he has every Radiohead album: Oh, he must be a snob. But he has every Oasis album: well they cancel each other out! The new David S. Ware Quartet live record? He likes crazy whale-speak jazz too? And who the eff is Candi Staton? But he has Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne’s entire catalogue too? I love those guys. This kid is impossible to pin down! He’s an absolute mystery! I am attracted to mysterious people!”

Even if this behavior never, ever even remotely came close to eliciting the desired response before downloading was even an option, this is clearly a tragedy

This is also the road to recovery.

I love music. But one of the main reasons I was passionate about music was because I wanted people to think certain things about me, I wanted to think certain things about myself.

I’ve come to realize this was a terrible and clearly embarrassing way to behave. Still, I’ve been having a hard time letting go.

But downloading music has forced my hand: my taste in music is no longer visible in the form of an overpopulated CD rack, a cracked jewel case on my desk.

And I am slowly becoming a better person for it.

Developing kleptomania notwithstanding.

By: Barry Schwartz
Published on: 2006-03-13
Comments (8)

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