The other day my dad was talking about his cellphone, and how it liked it so much because it was simple. Flip open, find the number you want, dial and talk, and then to hang up you simply close the clam shell.
Smartphones? They’re beyond him. Why do you need all that fancy stuff when you just want to make a phone call?
I almost chalked our conversation up to one of those aren’t-parents-cute moments, but then I thought, gosh, I recently felt the exact same way.
All I wanted was a radio. Nothing fancy, no media-playing capabilities. Just something that turns on, plays a radio station, and that’s it. And I wanted it to be portable enough to carry around the house with me: in the garage, in the kitchen, or in the kitchen window so I can hear it in the backyard.
At a local rummage sale, I found exactly what I was looking for. But to find it, I had to buy something that’s probably close to the same age as me. It’s the above General Electric desktop radio, model 7-4115B. Faux wood grain, black and metal finish, and two knobs – one for volume, and one for tuning. Then there’s a little switch that you flip to go from AM to FM.
It’s gorgeous, and it’s perfect, and it only cost me $1 at the rummage sale (some yahoo at Etsy has one for $18). That little radio was exactly what I was looking for, and it works like a charm. Plus, it’s stylish in a retro kind of way. That little radio fits perfectly with my kitchen. It’s sturdy enough, and if I drop and break it, I’m only out $1. But it’s the kind of thing where I can see having it for years and years. The thing has survived this long, after all – but maybe the reason it’s lasted so long is because it’s so simple.
When I’m doing repetitive tasks, I need something in the background to listen to. Put the radio on, and I’m up for anything. But if it’s not on, it’s easy to get distracted. Turning my brain off means having music, and so this new GE radio is going to be perfect.
Sometimes, fancy is great. Having the Internet on my phone is wonderfully handy, and goodness knows I get plenty of use out of my iPhone.
But then simple can be all you need just when you need it. My dad just wants a phone to make calls. I just want a little radio to carry around the house with me. Easy. Simple. Perfect.
We often do things that we regret when we’re out of our heads. Drunk, in love, low blood sugar – whatever the reason, something causes our brain to reboot, usually the day after, and look back on our behavior in horror.
But at concerts, at least we’re doing things we regret with other people. It’s fine to act like a screw-loose reptile when everyone else is just as goofy as you.
Look around you. See all those people screaming their heads off? See how they’re gyrating and dancing in a sea of other lunatics? Notice how they don’t care who’s watching, because (probably) no one really is?
That’s why I go to concerts: to utterly lose myself in the songs I love. These kids, just like me, were having the time of their lives – and they didn’t care who was watching.
The difference is that my enjoyment didn’t stem from the music on stage. No, it came from the kids losing their collective minds. This is why I want to take pictures. They mean something. I mean, look at them. They’re in ecstasy.
Not on Ecstasy, mind you. No, there’s something about a collective musical experience that makes drugs or alcohol totally redundant. Who needs booze when you have grooves?
It makes my heart ache to see these pictures, the day after, and realize what fun we all had that night. They’ll remember the songs and their friends singing along.
Perhaps it was just my childhood fascination with all things printed and ephemeral, but I do feel a definite disconnect now between myself and my –all digital– music collection. I personally like the idea of a physical object to represents an otherwise unsee-able art form.
I’ve mentioned this before, many times: I prefer buying my music on clunky old CDs because (a) I like having a physical backup and (b) it feels better holding music in my hands. That may be an outdated philosophy, now that all the kids are getting their music on Amazon MP3 and iTunes, but it’s especially true in instances like photography.
For instance, I don’t want some boorish electronic photo frame, cycling through pictures at my new house. Photos capture moments, and should stand as artifacts of the time and place.
Thing is, it’s been years since I’ve printed photos for display. Flickr and Facebook are the new digital photo albums.
But now I have photo frames to fill, and fill them I will.
“I’ve lost myself again
It’s a nightmare
But it’s clear
It will end
– Type O Negative, “White Slavery”
Peter Steele came into my life through dumb luck.
My high school buddy Nathan and I were playing “Magic: The Gathering” at his place, listening one of those satellite TV stations that does nothing but play a certain category of music. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time. We’re sitting there, and this thundering, brooding rock came on, and I asked what it was.
“Oh, that’s Type O Negative,” Nathan said. “Their frontman is a giant, seven-foot-tall guy with that deep voice. They sing mostly about sex and death.”
Sold, I thought. What more do I need to know?
But actually I forgot about that encounter for a few months, until later that summer I was browsing through the CD section of Jackson’s Circuit City when I found the Type O Negative section. Browsing through the albums, I took a chance on the newest one – October Rust.
It turns out I picked the right one, because October Rust changed my life. It has since risen to the top two or three albums I listen to, and it introduced me to something I had been looking for. Here, I discovered, was a perfect blend of lush, methodical, brooding music. It was funny, heavy, and catchy as hell. I remember “Burnt Flowers Falling” being stuck in my head for months, and after repeated listens the whole thing became a classic.
From there, I caught up on the rest of Type O’s catalog, with the (what I felt) uneven Bloody Kisses, the album that gave Pete and the band their first big hit with “Black No. 1.” I had to wait two or three long years until World Coming Down came out my first year of college.
That was the thing with Type O. You had to wait Tool-long periods of time, usually four years, between albums. What you had, you had to stick with, until some other life-altering event in Peter’s life made another album necessary.
For me, World Coming Down was almost too much. It was their darkest album yet, dealing with death and suicide and – for the first time that I can think of – Pete’s cocaine habit. And from that album on, Type O albums weren’t immediately grabbing. Hell, I didn’t like WCD after the first few spins. It wasn’t until I spent a year or two with it that it began to grow on me.
When you give them enough time, however, they become a part of your standby list. Need a CD to get you to work in the morning? Grab Dead Again and skip to “Profit of Doom.”
I remember printing out reams and reams of Type O guitar tabs in my high school computer class. I’d get done with my work so early that the teacher gave me permission to dick around on the Internet. So I’d head to a Type O site and print off all the guitar music, and learn those dead-heavy chords in dropped-B tuning.
I remember walking to my first in-college job, at Lincoln Elementary in Adrian, rocking World Coming Down as the maple leaves fell around me, and thinking that Type O was the soundtrack for fall.
I remember “Anesthesia” getting me through a few breakups.
Are a thousand tears worth a single smile?
When you give an inch, will they take a mile?
Longing for the past but dreading the future
If not being used, well then you’re a user and a loser
Type O drummer Johnny Kelly, in the After Dark video, called what Pete did “sonic therapy.”
For Pete, is was for himself more than anyone. Over the years, the music became less about girls and sex and more about family and addictions.
During the interim between Life is Killing Me (2003) and Dead Again, Pete faced all kinds of wacky stuff: incarceration at Riker’s Island, a stint in rehab, the death of his mom, coming back to Catholicism. Through all that, he never lost his sense of (dark) humor. And I can’t speak highly enough of the end product: Dead Again fucking rocks, and I’ve listened to it constantly since 2007. Constantly. It’s now right up there with October Rust in terms of rotation.
That got me thinking a few days ago. Dead Again was released in 2007, and we usually wait about four years between albums, meaning new Type O was due to hit in 2011.
Turns out I was right. The band’s statement on the Type O web site put it best:
Ironically Peter had been enjoying a long period of sobriety and improved health and was imminently due to begin writing and recording new music for our follow up to “Dead Again” released in 2007.
Now he’s gone. But as Don said, there’s bound to be some music in some deep, dark crypt that has yet to be released. Let’s hope.
With a recent trip to Iceland to “clean his mental health” behind him and The Profits Of Doom ahead (an early summer release is planned), Steele is non-committal about Type O’s future. And if he did return to making music as a hobby? “Maybe I can start my own website and send out CDs for free to fans, who could send me a donation for what they feel it’s worth,” says the former NYC Parks Department employee. Then he adds – with the slightest hint of self-deprecation – “So I guess I could expect a bag of shit in the mail.”
Pete and his humor. Man, to count the time the guy made me laugh out loud. I remember nearly pissing myself in the Adrian library reading interviews from the guy. As a journalist, Pete would have been a dream interview, full of those “did he really just say that?” moments. His personality was a big as his giant, hulking frame and as deep as his voice.
By all accounts, physical music media is on its way out. The MP3 is the new king, and – arguably – has been since the late ‘90s.
These days, the only way you can actually hold your music is with an iPod. Otherwise, it lives in binary 1s and 0s on a hard drive or flash drive somewhere. It’s hard to get romantic about the idea.
I grew up in the cassette age – a barbaric period for music, requiring rewinds and thin, black tape that got caught in tape players. It was an awful medium for music (and for movies in VHS tapes), and we were all rescued when the CD, invented years before its heyday, came on the scene. It seems extraordinarily obvious now, but the idea that you could start listening to an album at any point, at any time, and at great sound quality, was mind-blowing.
To those Baby Boomers, the LP was the epitome of audio quality and music appreciation. That artwork, those liner notes, the way you could sit with an album and soak it all in. That was the stuff.
But to my generation, the CD was our LP. Tremendous sound quality, music booklets you could flip through, and a degrade-proof medium that was more portable than the classic record. Sure, CDs skip and scratch – but so did records. And with no needle to replace, the laser-read CD was the new record for the digital age.
This was the era that I came into in high school, right at the time I was developing a greater appreciation for good music.
And the idea took off. Like a rocket. Thing is, there was nothing artistic, besides the music, to enjoy. It was just songs. To learn anything about the band, you had to visit their web site or Myspace page. There was nothing physical to hold in your hands.
Now Apple is trying to bring back the album idea, transforming it into it’s new iTunes LP format. The iTunes LP idea, like movie extras stuffed into a DVD, is compelling because it lets you go even deeper than LPs and CDs let you go before. Sure, there’s liner notes and credits and lyrics, but there’s also band interviews and music videos and the whole shebang.
As nice as it is, it’s just not the same.
I remember, especially in my high school years, taking a new CD, popping it into my stereo, and sitting down with the booklet and pouring through the lyrics as the music played. It was a way to connect with what I was hearing. I looked at the photos, and tried to parse through the thank-yous, and get a sense of the album’s direction by following along in the lyrics. It helped me memorize my favorite band members’ names and the song titles. For that hour, it was me and the band.
In fact, I would get upset if a band scrimped on their CD booklet. No lyrics? No multi-page nuggets of band trivia? When that happened, I felt cheated.
Now things are different. When I download an album from iTunes, I don’t get that connection that I did before. Now, music is something that plays in the background, while I’m working or cleaning or cooking. There’s nothing to hold on to, except my iPod, so I don’t hold on to anything. Not the song titles, not the band members’ names, not the little mysteries that unfolded when I would sit and listen and digest.
It’s totally different now.
It could be that I just don’t have the time to sit and marinate in my music like I used to. Part of that is true, I’m sure, but there’s something else.
I’ve always been a print guy. Paper and me go way back, and my career features skills that I developed in the print world. Only recently have I begun to learn more about web design and graphics. It’s a different way of thinking, for sure.
To hold a piece of paper with so much information on it, while listening to good music, is a feeling that electronic music formats can’t reproduce – not with iTunes LP, not with an iPod Touch, and certainly not on the web. The physical thing. That’s what I cherish.
I’m a hold-out. I still have every CD I’ve purchased since high school, after that very special Christmas when I got a Playstation and a CD boom box. They’re all still in their CD trays, stacked alphabetically, and some even have tickets when I’d go see the band in concert. Each CD is a slice of my history, and by opening up the CD tray I get whisked away to some time in my life. Maybe it’s when I first bought the CD, or when I first “got” the music. Whatever. Each one has a place in my home.
It’s heartbreaking when my CDs get scratched.
Sure, MP3s don’t scratch. You don’t lose them (unless your hard drive crashes), and they can’t get stolen from you. They’re robust and universally accepted, and it’s not hard to figure out why they’re so popular.
But man. To pop a CD I haven’t heard in years into my car stereo – to feel the CD player tug at the disc and whir as it spins it alive – that’s music appreciation. To pick a CD out of one of the stacks, to see the faded artwork on the cover, and to have a concert ticket spill out on the floor…
…it’s like real sex versus phone sex. Sure, you can get plenty of benefits out of masturbating with some poor schmuck on the other end. But nothing beats the in-your-face physical act.
And that’s why I’ll continue to go to the record store, or visit Amazon.com, and purchase real, live, physical manifestations of my music. I can rip them to iTunes, after all, getting the benefit of both the physical (and backup) copy and the electronic copy that lives its life in electrons. The CD makes both options possible, and I own both a physical and electronic copy at the end of the day.
Music has a special tie to memory. I like to hold both in my hands for as long as possible.
I keep hearing that its inclusion in “The Soprano’s” finale, or how the 2005 World-Series-winning White Sox made it their song, that that’s why it’s so freaking popular now. But I just can’t believe it. I think it started years before then, because I’ve seen how our generation has latched onto it like nobody’s business.
It makes sense. Released in 1981, right at the buttcrack of Gen X and Gen Y (and my own birth year), DSB lives in the foggy troughs of our childhood memories. Most Journey songs do. “Anyway You Want It” has always been my personal favorite, because I remember listening to it on our local rock station, Q106, growing up. “Stone In Love” is pretty damn good, too, and makes a great summer song.
DSB, though, is in a class all by itself. I have been struck stone sober as a bar full of twenty-somethings set down their drinks, raise their fists, and struggle to reach the highest notes of “some-where in the NIIIGGGHHHTTTT!”
Andrea’s wedding featured a white person’s dance floor, complete with air guitars and arena rock. And what song was, arguably, the most popular – besides “Bohemian Rhapsody” (probably Gen X’s own DSB, at its height, thanks to “Wayne’s World”)? You guessed it. Every friggin’ person on that dance floor knew the words. It’s amazing.
And now I’ve learned that our generation, the iPod generation, has taken to this song so much that they’ve blessed Apple with ungodly amounts of money via iTunes downloads. It’s not Britney, or 50 Cent, or that cracker Jack Johnson. It’s not even other arena rockers like Boston or Foreigner or…hell…even REO Speedwagon. No, it’s Steve Perry and his dysfunctional bunch of Frisco hippies.
Don’t get me wrong: I like the song. I’ve probably karaoke’ed it a couple of times in some drunken stupor. Don and I have covered many Journey songs, in fact, and slaughter each one of them. As with Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, bars gravitate toward these kinds of songs – and only a few people screw up the lyrics. It’s frightening to think that an entire generation of misfits that drink from the well of YouTube and quench their thirst on Facebook would have the brain capacity to remember songs from just before they were born. What sense does that make?
I understand the longing for something from the past to hold on to. Each decade brings back tricks from previous eras (grunge and Sabbath, Interpol and Joy Division, pop punk with whoever that one band is that sucks). Then what, in this grim time on Earth, can we learn from Journey?
Maybe that’s just it. There’s nothing to be learned. Maybe it’s all in the mindless fun. That boy from “South Detroit” (they would call it “Downriver”)? He’s us. And to a generation who has never been without want, we never stop believing. We don’t know any other way.