Friday, August 28, 2015

Vinyl Enters The Danger Zone

By: Ben Johnson

So apparently Amazon is getting into vinyl these days. “Yeah, man, I’ve been getting really into vinyl these days,” says Amazon. “Nothing beats the feeling you get when you open up a record sleeve, pull that thing out, put it on the turntable, put the needle down, and just bask in the warm, warm, tonal warmth of sound and consumerist smugness you get from knowing you own the thing you’re currently listening to.”

I like records. I have way more of them than I need. I understand the pathology. I don’t blame Amazon for getting into the vinyl game. It’s still, somehow, a growth industry. And Amazon already sells the most vinyl. They might as well get involved in the front end, too. Sure. Why not?

There are five titles now available for pre-sale as “ Exclusives.” If you like to click on hyperlinks, you already know that they are Soundtracks of 80’s movies. Footloose, Top Gun, Rocky IV, Dirty Dancing, and Goonies, to be precise. If you don’t like hyperlinks, the movie titles I just listed are linked to pages in Discogs where the respective soundtrack albums are available for sale for anywhere between significantly and way, way less than the $25 Amazon is charging for its “exclusive” reissues. The Goonies soundtrack is apparently actually kind of hard to find. Other than that, though, from purely a supply and demand perspective, these vinyl reissues of 80’s movie soundtracks do not need to exist.

Also from a musical perspective, which I understand is subjective, these titles, objectively, fucking suck.

So yeah: these “ Exclusives” are exclusively for stupid people. You know, the kind of people who would pay extra money for some patently unnecessary thing that isn’t even good in the first place just because it’s on Amazon and not a different website. Morons. Mouth-breathing dipshits on a misguided cross-platform nostalgia kick, the kind that see a thing that reminds them of another thing and say the word “awesome” using more than two syllables. People for whom comprehension is out of the question, and therefore must satisfy themselves with mere dim recognition. Suckers, in other words.

Which, okay, separating a sucker from their money is not exactly the worst thing you can do. I got no beef with Amazon over that. Anybody who’s bone-stupid and profligate enough to spend $25 on an “exclusive” reissue of the Top Gun soundtrack deserves to be ripped off continually until they’re forced to wander the globe in a potato sack. That’s not the issue I take with this.

The issue is this: the infrastructure doesn’t exist to accommodate every market-researched sucker-baiting whim of monolithic entities like Amazon AND manufacture all the other records that regular human non-corporation people would also like to have exist. Amazon is throwing its considerable heft and weight into a bottleneck, and it’s not hard to get a case of the logical extension willies from the resultant squeeze. If this works, if people buy these things, then this will be a major step towards total corporate dominance of the vinyl record medium, and therefore a sizable chunk of our communal participatory culture.

But who cares, right? I get that what I appear to be actually upset about is a thinly veiled elitist impulse to shit all over anything that intrudes on my ivory tower of perfect taste, which itself represents a hierarchy of my choosing not unlike the monetary hierarchy I’m decrying which Amazon sits atop. I get that vinyl is an inherently bourgeois medium. I get that just because I personally like records, and like listening to recorded music on records, doesn’t mean that I should expect that to always be feasible. I understand that records aren’t the only way to listen to music. I realize that the fact that I can even afford to have the number of records I currently own means that I, and I’ll go so far as to say a straight white cis man, because why not go ahead and mention it, am currently standing on 90% of the world’s neck. I am fully aware that nobody should care what I think.

BUT: I think it’s slowly but surely going to be damn near impossible to find and afford an actual good record. And I think that’s a shame in the same way it is always a shame when people, and here is where I count myself among people and stand up for myself a little bit, are robbed of an experience they enjoy simply because they have been disqualified from that experience by the larger forces of commerce, especially when that experience is one their enthusiasm helped popularize.

I can’t say why other people get into records, but I can say why I did: because listening to a record I love makes me feel less alone in the world. Crowds bug me. People make me uncomfortable. Most of the time, I don’t even understand what most people are saying or why they’re saying it. And yet when I put on a record I love, and crank that fucker up, I feel NONE of that.

I also like records because there’s the fact of it. The object. Physical evidence that other people are like me and want to hear the same sounds as I do. You go out into the world, and the experience is terrifying and upsetting, and all these people are out there in it just farting their way loudly through your shared space, seemingly unburdened by any sense of basic human sensitivity. And one of the things out there in this world, astonishingly, is some magic artifact of a weird person you are free to think is like you in some ways who has seen fit to skronk out their similarly displaced emotions and press them into a small platter you can hold in your hand, a miraculously available thing for you to go out into THIS WORLD and get. I have records, and I can look at them and play them whenever I want, and more importantly, I can feel them keeping me company, telling me that I’m okay, and that my emotions are both real and shared, and it helps.

I’m not going to say that this is entirely healthy. I could probably benefit from more viably alive sources of emotional support than my record collection.

Be that as it may, I do have a tendency to take it personally when something happens in the world of records and record production which runs counter to my own wishes and which pushes my tastes and preferences further to the margins I already feel myself inhabiting, even while acknowledging that as a straight white cis male any margins I feel myself confined to are way, way roomier than most.

I’ve read enough to suppose that the thrust of our current economy exerts a similarly marginalizing force on all of us, whether we are aware of it or not. It’s immensely sad to me that many of us, in our own personal search for happiness and meaning in the world, don’t know any better than to spend $25 on a Top Gun soundtrack LP.

Even more sad: there will probably be many people who receive these “ Exclusive” LPs as a gift this upcoming holiday season from well-meaning loved ones who only know that the person they care about is “into vinyls, like records, like a record record, like wigga wigga, a record” and form the thought “I just know you like that movie from when we watched it together that time in 1993 when we seemed temporarily not all that estranged,” and this gift will be at once sincere and beautiful and heartbreakingly, traumatically insufficient. Much in the same way that both the product itself and the negative space of not some other product is also those things.

And so I urge you to please not buy these things. These are bad things that do not need to exist. If you insist upon owning these things, buy them used. Please. This is an honest request from a fellow human being. I’m sorry I called you a sucker and implied that you are a basic, dirt-fucking clod who could make the world a better place simply by dying in a boat wreck. That’s not about you, that’s just me barfing my hang-ups out onto you. Please forgive me.

You’re into Kenny Loggins, that’s fine with me. I respect that. Please respect that I am into NOT Kenny Loggins. I may be wrong, but I feel that I am more delicate and vulnerable than you are on the Kenny Loggins issue, and therefore I need NOT Kenny Loggins more than you need $25 Amazon Exclusive reissued Kenny Loggins. Hey, how about this: give me $25, and I will bring you all the Loggins LPs you can handle, plus a J.J. Cale record that’s like Kenny Loggins but actually good. I’d gladly do this for you. Please at least consider it. For once in your life.