Dismay was her initial reaction when I volunteered that I’d just received a CD as a Father’s Day gift. Young, smart, and tech savvy, she seemed nonplussed that I not only wanted a piece of circular plastic, but that I desired every song. My further explanations had her shaking her head side-to-side, and eventually cocked toward one shoulder like Nipper, the iconic RCA dog in the painting His Master’s Voice—utterly attentive, yet completely confused.
Most everyone my age understands the appeal of an entire album. Tommy by the rock band The Who is perhaps the most obvious example. Its collection of songs tells a complete saga. Yet all albums tell a tale, or serve as tattletale. Even the most casual observer can glance at the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and know that those young men were experimenting way beyond the local pub’s pale ale. From Mozart to Elvis to Mary Beth Maziarz (a rocky mountain singer of notable renown), an artist’s total body of work tells the story of their life. Each song is merely a chapter, representing a first kiss, a drunken cheat, a child grown, a forever love.
To select a single track is to only learn of that “first kiss,” and never know “forever love.” Most of what the artist offered us is lost. Would Michelangelo’s Pieta convey the same emotional response if we covered the Christ figure with a painter’s tarp? By studying only the Mona Lisa’s nose, can we ever see her wry smile?
In the past, one big song has often launched the album. However, in this age of ever-smaller bits and even tinier bites, will this axiom hold? Will albums fade away, taking with them their broader view of life?
Although my discussion with the tech savvy young woman initially spurred these thoughts, I cannot say that this phenomenon is isolated to music. Nor is it generational. Some of the oldest people I know watch only CNN, never Fox News. Others worship Bill O’Reilly, but god forbid Rachel Maddow. Today’s digital age allows each of us to easily turn away from our personal version of the “drunken cheat.”
Yesterday, we shared the same few TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers. Every night we saw, heard, and read the same tale of redemption. The next day we argued the story of that person who grew from “drunken cheat” to “forever love.” But today, we choose from thousands of sources. Argue from thousands of narratives. Our most popular magazines once had names like Time and Life. But soon came People…then Us…and now Me. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be able to buy a copy of I, a tabloid entirely devoted to what I know, what I feel, and most importantly, its articles will only discuss what I think about what I know and feel.
Stream of Consciousness Quote:
“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates life.”—Oscar Wilde