Editor's Choice

Music Discovery Stories

The internet can free us from the tyranny of what's popular now and let us discover and become obsessed with culture from a diverse range of eras and locales.

Nicholas Carr linked to Duran Duran bassist John Taylor's essay (!) for the BBC about how the internet changes music consumption. He relates a story about seeing Roxy Music on television in 1972 and riding his bike for miles to go to a shop where he could buy the record.

We had no video recorders, and of course there was no YouTube. There was no way whatsoever that I could watch that appearance again, however badly I wanted to. And the power of that restriction was enormous.... The power of that single television appearance created such pressure, such magnetism, that I got sucked in and I had to respond as I know now previous generations had responded to Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show, or The Beatles, or Jimi Hendrix. I believe there's immense power in restriction and holding back.

The moral is familiar: On-demand culture deprives cultural-industry product of its aura, and consumers are left with a shallow and superficial relation to it. That seems to sell the power of the product itself somewhat short -- if the songs are really good, the aura artificially secured by restricted access presumably shouldn't matter to our aesthetic response. The would-be John Taylors of today should be listening to "Virginia Plain" over and over again despite downloading it. As he points out, the internet can free us from the tyranny of what's popular now and let us discover and become obsessed with culture from a diverse range of eras and locales.

What's lost is the monoculture -- the idea that everyone saw the same TV program and then could differentiate themselves in their community by their diverse responses. In today's cultural environment, everyone seems to be expected to be magpies, amalgamating all sorts of ad hoc bits of culture for themselves. (They are creating their own economy, as Tyler Cowen would say.) So distinctive gestures of musical taste are in some ways harder to find; people find it harder to interpret what your being into Roxy Music is supposed to mean. In the 1980s, it did mean a lot more to be into obscure bands, but much of that meaning was snobbery and exclusivity -- "I know someone who's got a lot of SST records and seven-inches." (I remember feeling weirdly betrayed when certain CD reissues started to come out -- "But I worked hard to gain access to those Gang of Four records! I traveled!") With "restriction" in place, music can serve as a positional good, slating us into subcultural hierarchies. That the internet has assaulted that citadel is unequivocally positive.

Also, I think we will continue to generate stories to go along with the way we discover songs. It is just that the retail encounter will no longer be part of that story. The restrictions imposed by the artificial scarcity created by the music industry will no longer determine significance; instead our own mnemonic efforts will be crucial to weeding among the stuff we binge-downloaded to elevate the songs that signify more than our idle curiosity.

But that requires an effort that we are no longer forced to make -- we can follow the route that society seems to encourage (through marketing and media triumphalism about discovering new trends and such) and just pursue novelty instead of depth in our relation to culture. It seems harder to summon the willpower to impose consumption restrictions on ourselves now that money doesn't do it for us. (That doesn't mean I want to go back to being culturally poor, though.)

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.