Monday, June 15, 2009

The Internet Kills Another of My Favorite Spots

The Virgin Megastore in NYC's Union Square is closing. Another record shop bites the dust, having fallen victim to a culture of young people who've fallen in love with pirated music, iTunes and their laptops, which they've turned into their best friends, spending more time with these web-surfing vehicles than with actual human beings.

I'm sorry, but I'm distressed. This is just another example of our youth turning more and more inward. I can't begin to calculate all the time I've spent in my life either at lower Broadway's now-closed Tower Records and the Virgin store. So many hours spent cruising for the latest cool music to buy. So many beautiful women to look at during my single periods, some of whom I actually had the balls to approach. The feeling of being around other people who shared my love of music. The sensory overload of seeing the thousands and thousands of CD's to choose from, listening to samples on the headphones. A place to gather and inhale this incredible art form. So therapeutic, almost Zen-like. The warmth of the store on a frigid Manhattan Winter night. These places are suffering a rapid death, and it's a damned shame.

I am not a fan of modern technology, at least that which is bankrupting many of the things in life I love. It's stripping us of the interpersonal experiences from our daily lives that seem to be fading faster than Steve Jobs' hairline. To be sure, there are no people at the iTunes "store." No one to talk with. No eccentric clerks. No cute women. No racks of discs to flick through my fingers in rapid-fire succession. No energy that comes from being around other like-minded music-lovers. There's no cool NYC experience there whatsoever. No place to go to to simply get lost in the music and bask in the sweet smell of its packaging. Music lovers are now trapped in lifeless, impersonal computer screens. Bazillions of people have traded in true social-networking for the ease and convenience of purchasing music online. Today's kids really have no clue what they've lost. It's just not the same to sit alone in some over-priced coffeehouse with little plugs jammed into your ears as you download the latest Killers CD. It's pretty sad, actually.

Now go ahead and make all the "cranky grandpa" jokes you want. I'm ready. But what I'm not ready for is a culture that will eventually do everything from the comfort of home except have real socialization and intimacy with real live actual people. If this is progress, I'd rather be old school.


barneybarnbarn said...

A blogger who's not a fan of modern technology? 'Cmon Andy. Things change. That's just the way it is. Do you miss the 5 cent nickelodeons and the shoe shin man too? How about milk bottles outside your front door? Damn you Fresh Direct!!! (Hey, I didn't call you Grandpa at least!)

Listen, kids still mingle and talk about music they like. It's called LIVE music. There's places all over town even without CBGB's. Places like the Living Room, Arlene's Grocery, Pete's Candy store. And they have parties. And these kids also....(wait for it).....BLOG about music!! True, there's no corporation getting rich at these gigs, parties & blogs. But well, that's just tough!

Music isn't dying. Just the way it's delivered. I miss Tower & Virgin too. But I'll adjust. I'll find cute young girls to flirt with elsewhere. And so will you.

Someone just moved our cheese. There's still cheese out there. Trust me. I've heard the Jonas Brothers. ;)

Marc McDonald said...

I agree and I can relate to what you've written here. I used to be a huge fan of record stores.

I liked Tower and Virgin, but I loved the indie shops even more. Places like the late, great RPM records in Garland, Texas.

Actually, there are still some great brick-and-mortar shops out there (the amazing Aquarius Records, which has an excellent Internet presence, comes to mind).

Having said that, as a music lover, I find it hard to condemn the Internet too much. For all that we've lost with the death of record stores, we've also gained a huge amount.

I'm not talking about pirated music: I'm talking about how in our era, you can get any CD you could possibly ever want, at Net retailers like Aquarius and Forced Exposure. And online download retailers like eMusic offer amazing selection, as well.

Back in the old days, I can't recall how many times I'd be looking everywhere, without success, for some obscure record or CD (usually an import). These days, you can find pretty much any CD online, no matter how rare or obscure. Actually, I take that back: Stockhausen is as elusive as ever.

Thanks to the Net, I've been able to score music I sought for years and never was able to hear: everything from European Cecil Taylor CDs to obscure Krautrock to amazing music that was never even released in the U.S. (like Taj Mahal Travellers).

So while losing record stores does indeed suck, we still are living in an amazing era for music availability.

Incidentally, I don't blame the Net for declining CD sales (like all the big corporate labels do). The fall in music sales is more due to the absolutely sh*tty quality of new music on the big labels these days. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Jimi Hendrix came back today, he wouldn't be able to get the time of day from any of the major record labels. No, they're too busy pursuing the next Britney.

I too, miss the social contact of the brick-and-mortar stores. But thankfully, there are still live concerts---that's one thing the Net has yet to replace.

Unknown said...

Shut down the antiquated music "industry's" control of distribution - their moronic "hit machines" - by taking away their Wall Street-like financial "incentives" even if it means stealing it.

The best thing that ever happened to the hope for a music culture is the current destruction of the music "industry."

...and you're left with musicians making music for music's sake, not to make a buck for a multi-national corporation and their corporate, pre-packaged, teen-age, masturbatorial fantasies.

Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

There are so many independent record stores that need people's business. The megastores are an idea thats time has passed. At an indie shop, you can still have the same experiences that the larger stores provided. And you might find even cooler, more obscure music. And you might even learn to love vinyl again.

Sarah in California said...

I couldn't agree more. And I just don't see the rejection of this stuff being something as simple as a case of "you're just old and in the way;" the plain fact is that yes, things ARE changing, and no intelligent person refuses to see and accept the general notion of change. But intelligent people CAN recognize that not all change is always for the better. In this case, Ostroy is so right: how does it represent progress for young(er) people to be methodically constructing lives of isolated "networking?" (An oxymoron if there ever was one.) At warp speed, we're morphing into a society of people who don't know how to deal with the messy reality of other people. It's terrible, and the stuff of which science fiction has always been made. The medium is most certainly the message now, and that bodes every bit as ill as McCluhan intended it to. Thanks for the piece, Andy.

Ken Connors said...

I used to enjoy perusing the record stores as well. My favorite used record/CD store owner knew my taste well enough that after I'd come up empty after spending a half hour in there, Jerry would come up with a recommendation, which led me to appreciate Bill Morrissey, John Wesley Harding, Peter Case, and countless others.

The big stores became so tied to the 'hits' of the music 'industry' that 'marginal' genres like folk and bluegrass were ignored.

I didn't leave them on my own. I was pushed into the waiting arms of Amazon, CD Baby, and Ebay.

Roy said...

Great, another dinosaur complaining about the youth. Go fall in a tar pit or get with the times, grandpa.

Thomas B. said...

I’m dreadfully sorry that the Virgin Megastore is closing. I agree that bricks-and-mortar places are essential for a real life. However, not everyone lives in a big place like New York – many of us live in suburbs and exurbs and rurbs (rural urbs, sorry) that have no places to buy anything cool. For us, the Internet is the ONLY place to get cool stuff. I’m sorry if it’s harshing your social life buzz, but the Internet has been a great boon for me, a lifeline to the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

anonymous grandma
Hey Barneybarnbarn -
Dont knock the fresh BOTTLE of milk outside your door - there's nothing like that fresh milk, in a BOTTLE, on a cool crisp morning, with the cream popping through the top, pushing the card lid way up- Delicious!!! you just dont know what you're missing - same with nickelodeon and shoe shines.