Easy Ed’s Weekly Broadside
Something happened this week that you might or might not have heard about. With all the press surrounding cell phones and fancy watches and a new U2 album that is free for the taking, quietly the book has been closed on something one might argue, albeit equally loved and hated, was the invention that forever changed the face of music economics and consumption.
The Sixth Generation 160GB iPod Classic is no longer for sale.
Yeah, you can still get the Nano, Touch and Shuffle. But those players are weaklings. They are hardly the revolutionary handheld media player that was introduced to the world thirteen years ago, just six weeks after the Twin Towers were brought down. There’s an amazing video out there you might be able to find: Steve Jobs holding up this little box in front of a group of people during one of his product presentations, and announcing that he was now able to carry a thousand songs in his pocket.
Pandemonium swept the room.
You might remember, or at least think you do, that it was a big seller. Nope, it wasn’t. Took about three years to really connect with the music consumer, and another three for the player to grow in storage capability that allowed us to carry around 2000 albums in our shirt pocket.
I am still to this day staggered at the ability to have so much music come along with me wherever I go, although now it’s usually streamed. And instead of a mere twenty or thirty thousand songs, I have access to millions and millions. Put aside just for a moment the sad situation that composers and performers face these days with regards to compensation, and the sterile metallic sound of a compressed file. For I’d argue that it wasn’t iTunes or the iPod that changed things for the worse, it was the inability of the music-industrial-complex to see the possibilities, embrace a new technology and design, and move forward with eyes wide open to create a new model. And they’re still trying to figure it out.
Before I leave this subject, there was a notation I saw about how the name of the iPod came about in Wikipedia. It was proposed by Vinnie Chieco, a freelance copywriter, who (with others) was called by the manufacturer to figure out how to introduce the new player to the public. After Chieco saw a prototype, he thought of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and the phrase “Open the pod bay door, Hal”.
And for those fans of the old Sony Walkman, it’s back. Really. It is. On the heels of a long line of brain-numbing failures such as Betamax videotapes, DAT, the Mini Disc and MemorySticks, there is a high end audio player on the market that allows audiophiles to play FLAC files. It came out in Japan last December and is slowly debuting in various countries around the globe. They never give up.
I’m almost finished with wrapping up the Summer of Peter Guralnick; re-reading some of the greatest roots music books ever written. I started with Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues, Country, and Rock ‘n’ Roll and now I’m close to the end of Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. Taking my time, I’m going back in time to soak up the stories that Guralnick has always been so good at telling. I have chosen to go out of order, saving for last the wonderful (actually, the two volume Elvis’ bios are my true faves) Lost Highway: Journeys & Arrivals of American Musicians. For a long time we’ve been promised his Sam Phillips bio, and Google Books lists an ISBN number and an October 2015 release date.
Sometime soon Steve Earle will be celebrating twenty years of sobriety. He spent his summer vacation this year teaching and lecturing songwriting in the Catskill Mountains, and now he’s on a tour with Shawn Colvin, where they take the stage together to swap songs and stories.
In the current edition of American Songwriter magazine, Steve spoke a bit about success, and what it looks like to some. Talking about his time with Townes Van Zandt, he says “I witnessed someone making the decision to make songs that were art. He didn’t give a fuck about success. My hit songs [the ones he wrote for other country singers before he ever began to record on his own] were enough to start a career, so it was then up to me to get on a bus and tour. Since then I’ve built a career on it.”
In walking the line between art and commerce, Earle says, “I used to never license my music for commercials, because guys like Neil Young never did. Then I realized, Neil Young has been fucking rich since he was 21, and I haven’t.”
To Steve…here’s to another twenty. And I’ll catch y’all next week.