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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Thrill of the New

I am a download junkie. There’s no denying it – the 28,000+ songs on my hard drive weren’t all ripped from my CD collection that now does little more than keep one of the basement walls from being bare. A healthy chunk of my music has known no other home but the computer and isn’t likely to find its way to disc. Occasionally I still buy a CD (they still make ‘em, can you believe it?), but generally out of necessity – some of the stuff is obscure enough that I can’t find it to download.

Still, I get nostalgic for my former music buying habits – paying for an actual, tangible object that might have even required unwrapping. Hmm…I guess a benefit of the mp3 is that you don’t have to wait for your fingernails to grow before you can get the shrink wrap off a CD. How about those awful plastic cases CDs and cassettes used to come in that required super human strength or a machete to open?

I’ve survived a few music formats. Beyond 45 records, my first-ever album music purchase was a K-Tel compilation eight track. That might evoke more than a few chuckles, but there’s even more ammo when it comes to the cassette department, considering my first venture into the tape world was the Xanadu soundtrack. I am proud of my first CD buy – Marillion’s Clutching at Straws, even if I didn’t own a CD player when I bought it. I already had the cassette, but the CD had a bonus track and my buddy across the hall in the dorm let me play it on his CD player.

In my pre-digital adult life, Tuesdays were weekly holidays since that’s when new releases came out. In my college days, the only game in town was (shudder) Wal-Mart, but I occasionally hopped a ride with a buddy to Streetside Records thirty minutes away. In post-college days, my musical hunts often took me to Westport. For those unfamiliar with the Kansas City area, Westport is the kind of neighborhood where, well, there were lots of used record shops. My favorite was Music Exchange. It was one of those places that smelled of dust from the crates of old records and whose door and windows were wallpapered with notices of when and where local bands were playing.

Once the CD dominated, my most frequent stop was Disc Traders. Neither would win a best-name contest, but at the latter they knew me by name, knew my tastes well enough to make recommendations, and weren’t wearing brightly-colored smocks and asking if I needed a shopping cart. It was a relief to know that even in suburbia, I could hit a store that didn’t have a TM after their logo – or even a logo for that matter.

Wrapped or unwrapped, once the acquisition was home or in the car, I’d check out the album packaging, read off song titles, peruse the liner notes and lyrics, and plop the thing in for that virgin listen. What really heightened the experience is when the tunes of choice were either 1) new stuff by a favorite act, or 2) a been-on-my-most-wanted-list-forever item.

I can’t remember the last time I plopped down cash or credit card on an actual counter instead of clicking on the “Pay Now” button. While grabbing up 7 Worlds Collide on Amazon.com may not be the same as stumbling across that long-sought 3rd Matinee disc (complete with a “For Promotional Use Only” label) at whatever-the-name-of-that-place-was-on-75th-Street, both methods can still elicit joy.

Last Friday, two new Kevin Gilbert CDs greeted me in my mailbox. There hasn’t been a “new” KG album since 2002’s Kaviar Sessions. Of course, unless you’re Elvis, Hendrix, or 2pac, you aren’t moving a lot of product from the grave. To the credit of KG’s estate, they’ve released a handful of gems since his untimely passing in 1996, most notably The Shaming of the True in 2000 – my favorite album of the last decade. No worries if you don’t know the name – his solo stuff hasn’t even scraped the bottom of the Billboard charts. His greatest fame comes from his 1990 Toy Matinee project that sold a few hundred thousand shy of gold on the strength of minor album-rock hit “Last Plane Out” and his stint as one of the under-appreciated musicians behind Sheryl Crow’s success with Tuesday Night Music Club. If you’re curious about him, check out my Dave’s Music Database page on him or go straight to the official KevinGilbert.com website.

However, I digress. The point of this blog wasn’t to convert you to KG’s music (well, maybe a little), but to simply relive those music buying experiences in era when phrases like “backmasking” and “dropping the needle on a stack of vinyl” dominated instead of “iTunes” and “synching up your musical device.” The names and formats in your own collection will vary, but there remains one constant among anyone who’s ever bought music – the elation of that perfect purchase, the discovery of a lost treasure, the arrival of a long-awaited must-have. Go ahead and break out that Xanadu soundtrack again – nobody has to know but you.