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New Music Tuesdays

February 7, 2012

Years ago, there used to be these places called record stores where a person could go and, in exchange for money, would leave with a shiny piece of vinyl or plastic containing songs from one (or some) of their favorite musical artists. These stores were as common as Starbucks today, and came in all sorts of sizes and varieties.

Small Mom & Pop joints specializing in classic disks. Young, hip, independent stores featuring bands you weren’t cool enough to know existed, and huge mega-malls with five floors containing nearly every disk, album, and tape from every notable act over the past 100 years. I loved them all.

I loved the ritual of wandering the aisles, flipping through the racks, listening to the music on the in-store sound system. I’ve looking for new releases from my favorite bands (before you could easily track those things online) and discovering new acts by talking with clerks or with my friends who’d come along for the experience.

In the movie, The Social Network, Napster-founder Sean Parker takes credit for killing the modern-day record store. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but since the advent of the iPod and iTunes, I have to admit that I haven’t bought a physical album or CD in many years.

Sure, I still own more than 1,200 compact disks, but I converted all of my music to digital years ago, simply because of the convenience factor. I like being able to carry my entire musical library on a 120 (and a 160) gig iPod. It gives me the freedom to listen to anything I want, anytime I want, anywhere I want. The quality may not be as warm or pure as vinyl, but after years of listening to and playing music on my own, my hearing isn’t what it used to be either.

I have a few friends who are vinyl purists and who love to listen to their favorite albums on big, old stereos with high-end speakers or headphones. They love the sound and the experience of immersing themselves deep into the music. Of getting lost in the album artwork and liner notes. Of zoning out and getting away from the world for an hour or two.

I used to listen to music that way, back when I was younger. I’d rush home with my latest purchases and toss them on the turntable or into the CD player, kick back, and chill. Because of this, there are still many albums that, as soon as I hear them, transport me back to a specific time or place. Somewhere along the way, however, I diverted from that musical path.

Music became background noise. Something to keep me going through a long day at work or behind the wheel. Sure, I’ll stop and listen to a specific song or guitar solo when something catches my attention, but for the most part, I find that I no longer listen the way I used to. And that’s a shame. Right now, for example, I’m playing John Mellencamp’s Life, Death, Love, and Freedom as I type. For those of you who remember Mellencamp as the Pink Houses and Jack & Diane guy, I have to tell you, he’s come a long way since the ’80s. This album (which I believe is his most recent) is spare, stripped back, Folk/Rock from a guy who’s been there and done that. It’s well worth a deeper listen than the one I’m giving it right now, that’s for sure.

While I may not get lost in music the way I used to, my love for finding new things to listen to hasn’t disappeared. And while I may no longer head to Tower Records, Amoeba Records, or Newbury Street Comics on a regular basis, I still take time each Tuesday to check out the Just Added section on iTunes and get a special thrill every time I find something new that I want to listen buy.

The experience may not be the same as it once was, but in the end, the songs remain the same no matter how you listen to them, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough for me.

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