Friday, May 16, 2008

Nostalgia for beginners: the times are a changing

Written by Rich Robinson, Senior Manager, Music and Brands, EMI.

“Let’s never be a part again”. That’s what I lovingly whispered to my iPod when it was returned to me this Monday morning, after having left it in a friend’s bag on Friday night. Although at the time I was messing around doing my best Homer Simpson impression, I actually really did mean it. Three days without my iPod proved unbearable.

I know it’s a bit old-hat to have an iPod as your Lovemark now, it’s almost a given for music lovers. Yet despite taking it for granted, being able to have your record collection at your disposal in your pocket still staggers me, and I flatly refuse to get in my car without it.

What’s really weird is that I was always such a hoarder. Still am, I guess. I own thousands of CDs, records and tapes. The difference is I used to spend whole evenings with them, picking out records, looking though them and playing tracks. But slowly and unconsciously I’ve switched to digital, which is as much a mindset as a technology. Whilst I’m not rushing to throw any of that stuff out just yet, I never looked at any of it over the past weekend without my iPod. What I wanted was everything, instantly at the touch of a button.

Kevin has remarked how often he gets asked how people can really love inanimate objects. My view is that some of them are so important in our lives that using a word less than love would be a disservice. I remember clearly with my old cassette player, how inconceivable it was to have any more than than a few tapes in your pocket. Let alone a whole jukebox.

I actually used to dream of having a device inserted into your ear drums so you could hear whatever music you wanted. It would be inside your head and your brain would sense exactly what it was that you wanted to hear, and play it for you. It seemed like a pipedream, but my iPod is pretty damn close.

Even being up with the play and being an iPod user, I still find it a bit of a jolt when I realize that I’m not quite as young as I used to be. It’s especially obvious with something as specific to a generation as music. I guess there’s three different ways to react to it. You can pretend to be hip, throw yourself fully into things and risk looking like the oldest swinger in town. You can not try to understand it, feel resentful and dismiss it with the old ‘things were much better in my day’ (something despite our best intentions we all have a twinge of!). Or you can step back and graciously pass on of the baton.

So standing at the back of the University of London Union watching the “new rave®” of Does it Offend You, Yeah?, I stood with a contented smile and made my peace doing the baton thing. The band was great and it just made sense seeing the whole thing come together in that environment. It was such a powerful coming together of like minds. Similar dress sense, attitudes and taste, all jumping up and down together in a sweaty mass. I didn’t really need to GET IT, but I got why they got it, if you get me! If in the end some blokes in their 30s at the back feel old, that’s part of the point.

The other day I found myself sitting, listening to and loving, Bon Iver’s amazing new record. I was mulling over the tragic irony that a lot of great music, as with so much art, is made under such sad circumstances. I’ve always thought it somewhat unfortunate that misery tends to be so beautiful. I guess we just can’t help responding to the humanity of it. I always think it’s actually the sincerity that really connects us to it.

In 2006, recently split from his girlfriend and his band, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon upped sticks and moved alone into the remote wilderness of a Wisconsin cabin. Over the course of three months, he wrote and recorded the nine tracks on For Emma, Forever Ago. What’s truly amazing is you can hear it all in the songs. The loneliness, the disconnection, and that quest to find oneself, before you can go back.

I guess I’m a sucker for that somewhat self-indulgent sadness. My favorite Dylan album is Blood on the Tracks ('If you see her say hello' gets me with its plaintive simplicity every time), and Bon Iver creates such a feel of fragile beauty, it’s hard not to secretly wish on him some bad times before the next record.