Friday, May 21, 2021


Yesterday as I cleaned my latest batch of lovingly-worn 45s I listened to Spotify's "Release Radar" playlist, and as the songs moved in and out of me something remarkable happened that doesn't occur too often: I felt as if I ascended slightly, leaving time and place behind. Something in the stories the songs were telling—Sleater-Kinney's new one, where if the singer's gonna mess up, she's gonna mess up with me; Jake Bugg seeing her everywhere yet never feeling more lost; Matt Berry's blissy "Summer Sun" opening in my head all sorts of sunny vistas that'd been shuttered for too long—that felt both fresh and eternal. As I cleaned one obscure, one-off, regional-band's-only-regional-hit 45 after another, songs a half century old already, I was reminded of how we're always singing about the same old things. I flashed on the faces of my students, the past year flat images on my computer screen as I sat and taught a few feet away from my LPs and 45s, as their wrinkled brows and preoccupied stares and hesitant mumblings indicated their grappling with ancient issues for the first time, stepping into that long tradition. Yesterday, the room I was sitting in became a kind of transparency, a sheet lifted to reveal someone else sitting down somewhere else in time listening to new songs about old stuff that revealed the world again, songs that ended up in dollar bins for me to pick up decades later and hold to the light to inspect the damage that those lessons, spun again and again, wrought on the vinyl. And the Spotify playlist you made and sent to your partner, or your buddy, or the one you're flirting with?—none of us know where streaming 1s and 0s will end up, except that "end up" is a phrase that will be endlessly redefined and reimagined. The digital cloud's an amorphous thing, but a steadily moving one, darkening or brightening whoever will be listening in the future, the sounds somehow both new and ancient. None of this, of course, is news, and yet it startles, and so it feels like news. Turn up the paradox loud.

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