Digital Lost & Analog Found

I'm listening to Glen Campbell. Yes, Glen Campbell. Yes, I'm old. Yes, it's good, good stuff. And yes, it's on a vinyl record I bought, own outright, and, if you have a turntable, live nearby, and seem trustworthy, I can loan it to you without any corporation knowing about it. No breaches of privacy. No question about the format remaining compatible or the company going out of business. No user agreement forcing me into binding arbitration if I share the thing. Oh, and I paid for it once and never will again. Crazy stuff, really it is.

This week there was a report about a fire destroying a bunch of old recordings and master tapes. Depressing. Losing art saddens to me. My record collection could go that way if disaster strikes our house. My old record collection suffered the disaster of the CD, Napster, iTunes, streaming, and me selling all of them for a pittance at a garage sale. I wasn't playing them then and hadn't in years. These things happen. I'm not beating myself up. And I'm hoping the house won't catch fire.

I've been thinking about old writing files I've stored in the cloud or on hard drives. I still have things I typed at Clarkson University in 1987. They were written in an editor that saved things as text files. I can still open those with almost anything. By 1988 I was writing with an IBM word processor and, unless I'm willing to do a ton of work or pay some money, those files are gone forever. Paper is bulky and can catch fire, but it's a format that doesn't go out of style no matter how much the electronics industry has been trying to make it go away. There are reasons to hang onto the old ways of doing things.

Sometimes it's not disaster or the march of progress that ruins things. MySpace deleted millions of files from their service. All that music is gone. Corporate decision making, something we can always count on to do what's best and right. Yep.

This weekend I tried resurrecting an old iPod using iTunes. I found out that some of the songs I "bought" from Apple aren't playable without my Apple ID, something I deleted a few years ago. Oh well. I thought I owned those things. Not so much. Is it any wonder I buy records now?

This weekend I downloaded a non-streaming music app for my phone. It only plays music I own, downloaded to the phone. I like it so far. It works whether or not I'm connected to a data stream and doesn't tell anyone what I've listened to so I can be hit with ads. It's no turntable and amp, but those things are pretty tough to carry on a walk or play in the car.

Everything for sale seems only to be for rent. I don't like renting. Sure, ownership is a pain when things break down. Our house needs a roof, my amp has to be repaired, the car needs new tires. Still, these things are mine andhave more value to me than if they were rented or owned by someone else whom I pay in money, data, and the abdication of my privacy.

One of the computers belonging to a member of the band Radiohead was hacked and the bastards stole demo tapes the band had made. The thieves set a ransom and the band responded by releasing the tapes for a small fee they are donating to charity. Good for them and screw those thieves. I don't care if Radiohead has a lot of money. They probably do and I'm happy for artists to make that kind of money. They don't need to be punished for it. The thieves on the other hand should be drowned in a deep part of the ocean. And we should be wary of the progress around us. Nothing is safe online. Nothing stored online is private. Sigh.

Networks can always be hacked. File systems go out of date. Electronic storage breaks down. Just last weekend Google's servers failed on the East Coast. If Google can come as close to melt down as Nine Mile Point, how far are we from Chernobyl?

My records wouldn't survive a fire, but they survive time and the whimsy of the next new thing. Just like Glen Campbell. I swear, this guy still sounds just absolutely great. He's gentle as hell on my mind. Come on over. I'll lend you the album.

Albums & Empty Boxes

As I've said before, listening to a record doesn't sound better than streaming, but I listen better and enjoy the experience much more. This is why I was disappointed when the new Brad Mehldau record I had ordered wasn't in the box from the record company. It's the thought that counts, but a box of packing material and a packing invoice isn't much of a thought. I so wanted to listen to that album.

I could have streamed it, but no.

Mehldau is a jazz artist and those folks, more often than not, know how to write liner notes. A good evening is listening to a record while reading the sleeve, learning who played what on each track, and getting some of the story behind the music. Sure, some of this is online, but on the computer I'm likely to check email, Twitter, or, God help me, the news, all of which wrecks the listening. Holding an album make the music that much better, makes it more interesting.

Streaming is like listening to the radio, something I've long avoided because when I want to hear Supertramp's "The Logical Song" or Pat Metheny's "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls" the radio sticks me with the Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now" and Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is." I'm often depressed, but that's suicidal. This is why I bought a tape player in middle school, a turntable in high school, and a CD player in college so I could play what I wanted to hear. Actually, I bought none of those. They were generous gifts from my parents. Thanks Mom and Dad.

I bought my own turntable this time and have given up tapes and all but a few CDs in the car. I also use my streaming service. It's convenient and sounds clean, but it isn't in any way romantic. It's not a whole experience the way it is listening to a record, reading the album cover and sleeve, and focusing only on the music.

I can't wait until the record company ships the album. This time I'll open the box nervous of more emptiness but hoping to be filled up by what's inside.

Morning Pages Are Analog

"Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." — Julia Cameron


Seven words into her description of Morning Pages, Julia Cameron says that they are done longhand. Pen and paper. There are many reasons, but the most important is the most primal: writing with pen on paper is as close to natural as writing can be. Writing by hand is simple, close to the bone (literally), and the way we first learned to write. (That last may have changed in recent years I'm sorry to say.) Morning Pages are on the desk, receiving ink from a pen held in the hand which is moved by the mind. The action is immediate, permanent, personal, tactile, private, individual, and traditional. Remember that tradition doesn't mean that something is just old but is so tried and true that it is passed down through the ages. I've been through at least ten different word processing programs and at least double that many file formats (some of which are no longer readable by any machine I can access), but the paper and pen I use could have come from my childhood or my father's childhood or his father's and so on down the line.

Morning Pages are analog and that facilitates connecting with the stream of words that flow within us but which is too often blocked by embarrassment, worry, or inconvenience. The fewer things mediating between thinking and writing, the better. If I have to boot my computer, if I need access to electricity and the internet, if I'm unsure the machine is saving my files, then I have that too much between myself and writing. If instead, I have a stack of blank pages waiting near my desk and a pen on hand, I'm ready to write Morning Pages.

There is plenty to say about what pen to use. Mine is a Lamy 2000 fountain pen with a medium nib that I fill with Noodler's blue ink. That wasn't the pen I used my first day of Morning Pages, but I got there eventually. Choose a good, fast pen that feels great in your hand. Don't spend money on one. You have a pen already. Use that and go from there.

As for paper, again, start with what you have. I write on used paper. I print lines onto the back of used sheets and it works well for me. I suggest that you choose paper that allows for 750-1,000 words of writing over three pages. That feels like just enough.

Simple tools. That's all you need. Keep electricity and the network out of it. Do this personally, privately, maybe even secretly and keep the process completely analog. Get back to basics and you stand a better chance of getting back to yourself and into your own words.

Be open to all the ways in which you might do your best work. THat may begin on the computer. I started there too. Eventually, the necessity of going analog impressed itself upon me and I moved into that because it showed me things I couldn't learn on a computer. Find your way and accept that it will change over time. My way is analog and that's what I suggest to you. Now go make your own choices.

Elusive Music

At a record store in Burlington I heard some music so incredible I had to ask one of the guys up front, "Who is this?!" I said it with some desperation because I couldn't believe what I was hearing it was so good.

"It's this guy," the kid said, holding up this album.

FitzGore.jpg

I was about to say, I'll take it, when he said, "it's this crazy rare thing. This record goes for hundreds of dollars. It's crazy good, isn't it?"

I said that it was and noted the artist and title — Fitz Gore & The Talismen's Soundnitia — in my phone so I could find the music later. It's the twenty-first century. Everything's available online.

Except, not so much.

Of Fitz Gore & The Talismen there is all too little available, damn it. There's this magnificence and he does a great version of Horace Silver's Song For My Father (from which Steely Dan lifted the hook for "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"). If that's not enough to make you want the album, we are hearing different things. I want that album bad! But it just isn't there.

This is disappointing but I also like that there is something so great in the world but not available to me. I can dream about it but not have it immediately. I need more of that in the world. More of less. Yeah, that sounds almost as good as Fitz Gore & The Talismen.

Still, if I find Soundnitia in a record bin for anything less than $150, I'll probably buy it on the spot. Less is good, but Fitz Gore is even better.