“Shopping for Music, Fall 2017”

Wow, remember when “shopping for music” meant going out to a place called a “record store” and browsing for the specific RECORDINGS you wanted to purchase? Today I went out “shopping for music” in a different way, at Best Buy [1], to sift and rummage through, and maybe dissect one single percentage of, all the seemingly meaningless doohickies on WHICH you can now listen to music.
So I’d thought my idea was original (much to my foolishness), since bass sound is increased on digital recordings (when Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” is really “bumping” on Spotify you know something is up), but it turns out just today I saw a Best Buy ad for $45, a “Victrola” [2] with “Bluetooth” capabilities. So they do no make turntables which are infused with digital playing systems — whether or not you can actually play the bass from a digital version of a song concurrently with the analog vinyl play, thereby combining the warmth and spatiality of vinyl with the booming bass (especially useful in hip-hop and electronica which aren’t even spatial musics) remains to be seen. But nobody would deny that we’ve taken a step toward that.
There’s just one problem: I walked into Best Buy and… I could not find the record players anywhere. This was much to my amusement, as like Neil Young I find this recent vinyl craze to be a complete crock of sh**. That Vinyl Me, Please calls their deals “plans,” which sounds like something you’d organize with your dentist. Recently in a bookstore here in Terre Haute, Indiana called Books-a-Million I saw these turntables garishly merchandised on a giant island, with nothing else musically related around, and, with no price tag near them. Something tells me buying a record player involves a copay.
What I did find in Best Buy, amidst Discmen (yes, those portable CD players with headphones) and… WALKMEN (yes, the iconic, late-‘80s early-‘90s device of portable COMPACT CASSETTE [3] players which even spawned the name of a New York indie rock band you might have heard of), was an old dude, probably 75 or 80 years old, who listened to CD’S, wanting to cotton on to a better way to play them in his living room. I saw CD players big and small (Insignia was a big brand which made both the portable and the huge)… one of which was this handsome imposer which just had the tiny slot (no external “drive” extending out, just the slot), was made of wood grain, and sat like a phat force on your desk, ready to do sonic battle with all and sundry. This puppy ran $100. It was almost worth it for the look alone, and the fact that it wasn’t a vinyl player. The only “plan” involved was rocking out to whatever 80-minute plastic segments of music you could get your hands on, just like in the ‘90s, when we saw that multi-billion dollar lawsuit with Napster.
Actually, today, the market for CD’s, and buying CD players, is even better than it was in 2015, when the only one I could find at a Meijer was a Sony for $50 (and which in 2010 would have cost $30, for reasons of greater supply). That sucker’s already broken from when I bought it, as is the piece of crap speaker I bought a year ago to go with my first-ever iPhone. But this brings me to another point: I learned today that “Bluetooth speakers” and “computer speakers” (even the type which might work with a Mac laptop) are two different things — they’re even housed in separate departments in the Best Buy. They both cost the same, but come with different cords. Well, Bluetooth doesn’t involve cords at all, I guess. It’s made for people for whom hooking up a wire is like a monumental task, I guess. Someday we’ll overcome our natural antipathy toward music itself, and embrace it with a relinquishment of this constant craving for technological change. Yeah, fat chance.
[1] Granted, Best Buy is also still a place where you can go on a CD-buying binge, which I did just last year with a $50 store credit.
[2] They’re even apparently using the exact terminology here of the units they made back in the 1940s or so — or that that original manufacturer has actually made a comeback.
[3] It’s easy to forget that we think of the “tape” as a technological creation of the ‘80s, but the only difference between that and an eight-track, actually, is that it’s smaller.

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