narrative imaginings

analog bliss

i just had a shock:  the paragon of indie music in the western Washington area (basically Bellingham and Seattle) — CELLOPHANE SQUARE — is closed.  because i no longer live in Washington state, i just realized this passing, though it happened mid-summer last year.

in my youth i worked at Cellophane Square as a snarky music seller.  i wanted to shave my head à la Sinead O’Connor, but chickened out and merely buzzed it down to 1″ all over my small head.  i then went the bleached route and i looked like a trashy Billy Idol for a while.  fortunately, this look went over strong with the rebellious youth who frequented the music store.  perhaps my taste for long false eyelashes and bright red eyeliner complemented the hair in an inexplicable way.

the shock of their closing sent me into reverie, naturally, and i remembered being appalled in the spring of 1992 when the store decided to shift all the vinyl to the backroom.  they weren’t eliminating the LPs, mind you—just taking them off the public floor.  this decision was not only horrifyingly misguided (to my traditionalist mind), but woefully user-unfriendly (to use 21st century parlance).  management’s concept for this strategy was that music buyers would come in and request the album they wanted; a store employee would then go in the back room and check the rows to see if the requested title was in stock.  the failure of this strategy was inevitable due to the nature of music-lovers.  ordering up a title is antithetical to the experience of browsing; flipping through the albums constitutes eighty percent of the enjoyment of buying LPs!  how can a customer request what they want when they haven’t serendipitously stumbled across it yet?  even more alarming was the disrespect!  what a way to treat vinyl—the medium that provided listeners with their initial introduction to the Beatles, the Stones, PJ Harvey, and Patti Smith.  i, in fact, refused to help with the move, and stayed out on the floor to help customers.  i was in resolute protest to the relegation of all the store’s vinyl to the backroom due to aforementioned reasons.

of course, these are not the actual reasons for the move, and ultimately Cellophane Square’s final shuttering.  the evolving effects of digital technology are the true origins for these (in my perception) seismic occurrences.  in 1992 CDs were just beginning to catch fire with the general public.  back then, they were still considered a high-priced alternative, and cassette tapes were still big sellers—popular for their size, convenience, and low price.  they both seemed shiny, plastic, and modern in comparison with the unwieldy albums.

these two formats reflected on vinyl the lackluster impression of an oversized antique.  albums were delicate, required a balanced turntable with a sharp stylus, and one needed to flip the whole thing every 25 minutes.  they also demanded lots of equipment: an amplifier, large box speakers, various-colored wires, and the all-important turntable—all gratifying nectar in my personal hours of musical abandon.  i had a “collection” of a couple-hundred LPs, some ancient 78s, and dozens of 45s.  i adored the ritual of listening to records.  all the accoutrements made the listening experience that much more pleasurable.  one had to summon patience, grace, delicacy, and attention to properly listen to music on vinyl.  it was work.  work, that if performed to perfection, paid off with exquisite and paradisaic aural art through which one could be transported to an infinitely better place.

my biggest hesitation about digital technology was the result of articles i read in the early 90s about the difference between analog and digital recording.  quite often the articles cited a difference in tonal rage between the two formats, and estimated that digital technology was unable to reach the low tones that analog could.  consequently, CDs, we were told, sounded colder, almost medically-precise, and lacked the warmth listeners “felt” while enjoying an analog recording.  well, this was all i needed.  in a society that seemed to be embracing a creepy, rapidly-increasing plasticity, i didn’t need my aural bliss compromised, too.  but i eventually caved.

my distrust of digital recording and, therefore CDs, postponed my initiation into digital devices.  my first CD wasn’t bought until 1998—The Essential David Bowie.  my act of purchasing a CD player and one CD felt like a total sell-out.  any thrill i got from my new purchase paled in comparison to the satisfaction in which i basked after finding that perfect old recording–vinyl not too scratched–in an unexpected place.  these new technologies left no room for surprise or discovery.  the general absence of ritual and complex equipment and wiring in this tidy, compact machine only reinforced the let-down.  it was all too easy.

my justification for my personal embrace of digital technology is the same as everyone else’s: convenience.  i caved in the name of convenience.  in my own defence, i have to say i’ve earned two college degrees since those Cellophane days, and now work a lot.  just like everyone else, i have a demanding life, and the time-consuming ritual required of vinyl is more than i can allow myself at the moment.  this may be sound like an excuse, and although i’ve unfortunately abandoned my devotion to the analog lifestyle, in my heart i remain devoted to the analog life.  an analog lifestyle requires an almost fetishistic devotion in this second decade of the new millennium.  and while i demonstrated unusual potential at an early age for fetishizing the ritual of an analog lifestyle, in the end i broke.  i now order digital music files online and download them to an ipod—just like everyone else.  and for this — i, too, am responsible for the shuttering of an indie bastion.  i, too, am guilty of turning my back on Cellophane Square—my early stoic resignation passed into memory with the last century.

i tell myself: if i had the time, i would create my own analog bliss.  my life would be all warm tones and low vibrations.  i would work for my pleasure, and because it was earned, it would be that much more satisfying.

© FMR 8/28/10


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This entry was posted on August 28, 2010 by in analog, memory, music and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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