Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Snobbery or harmless nostalgia?

I was taken aback by the level of hostility toward Dan Brooks' recent article in the NYT Magazine, entitled "Streaming Music Has Left Me Adrift".  Your take depends completely on whether you read the article as sincere, or tongue-in-cheek.  For me, Brooks is engaging in bittersweet nostalgia about the past, but for many others, he's hopelessly stuck in the past and highly critical of the present.

How this article is perceived is particularly important to me because there are many similarities between Brooks' style of writing and my own.  I write stories about the way things were (according to me and all my inherent biases) all the time.  But fondly reminiscing about the past isn't the same as wishing we were still living in the past, or even approval of how things were in the past.  A lot of what Brooks is saying comes off as quaint snickering about the way things were.  Remembrances of the days before cell phones and TV remote controls would be similarly quaint and hilariously dated.

Brooks' article reads like what his 20 years ago self would have written about musical culture today.  His insulting take on "objectively hideous" major label music of the 80's and 90's is something that a 90's alternative music critic would have written about the rock music of the 80's.  There are too many nods and winks in the article (linking Journey and Smashmouth as the prime examples of this kind of dreck cracked me up) to suggest that Brooks doesn't know it's a dated method of criticism.

Music listening and purchasing used to be done mostly at home and in record shops.  Now we listen almost everywhere but at home, and track down music online before making even the most rudimentary purchased.  Surely we have lost something along the way.  I miss hanging around record stores, and yes, which record stores you frequented did say something about your personality in the same way that the bars you frequented did (and still do).  It was fun, but the experience has been de-romanticized by countless writers and even movies like "High Fidelity".  Record store clerks really would snicker at their customer's purchases and insult them after they'd left the store.  At the time it was fun (I never worked in a record store, but I enjoyed the atmosphere, even the hostility and yes even some of the snobbery), but I don't want to relive it again.

Nobody's debating the inherent sexism of fetishizing the female record store clerks or the dewy-eyed naivete of trying to date girls with "acceptably" cool CD collections.  This stuff really happened!  The debate is about how sincere Brooks is being when he writes that "the major labels have collapsed and ruined dating too".  Many people are assuming he's being sincere.  I think he's laughing at himself.  .

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