Sunday, May 26, 2013


Hello. My name is Eddie and I buy CDs.

There. Easy. I've outed myself. It was just like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (or a typical fictional redition of the same, as repeated ad naseum in television drama and literature). But that doesn't tell the whole story of my musical consumption. Oh no, no, no, no, no. There's a lot more to it than that.

I have a stack of vinyl that I've been adding to for years, new and second-hand; LPs and singles. I've got cassettes (somewhere, although the 8-track cartridges are now long gone); both bought and home-made compilations. Then there are the downloads. Countless downloads, some burned to CD, others sitting on various storage devices. MP3, M4A, FLAC, SHN, and more esoteric formats gathered from various FTP sites (let's pause briefly to crack open a frosty in memory of bitstorm), or from peer-to-peer applications like Napster and Soulseek, or the arcane DC, or myriad trackers using bittorrent, or simple right-click and "save link as" from various music blogs, or even discs traded in the post ("leaf and vine"). I've seen it all, and I've done most of it, including making recordings of live performances and sharing them.

David Bowie, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, October 1972.
The point is, a lot of the music I have is shared: shared by fans, often with the blessing of the artist. There are sites dedicated to facilitating the sharing of music. In these, the music is shared and the rules or protocols of sharing are closely guarded (or moderated): if someone reckessly, or even ignorantly, shares music from an artist on a proscribed list, or that is commercially available (there are times when something may circulate happily as a bootleg for years, and then will be officially released, as in the case of David Bowie's Santa Monica '72, which was eventually released as a "legitimate" album some twenty-odd years after the show), the files will be deleted and a moderator will publicly admonish the offender.

(Ironically, the rare "collector's" material that I used to search out in London record shops and buy for "top dollar" -- bootleg vinyl sold for about twice the price of a legitimate release -- became much less rare and much less expensive, thanks to the internet and the culture of file sharing.)

Along with sites like Dimeadozen, Mindwarp Pavillion, UbuWeb, etc., The Internet Archive is a great respository of free music (that is, free to play or to download or to share). Only last night I grabbed four shows by The Handsome Family from The Internet Archive while listening to their third album, In The Air, via my Spotify subscription. There's even a note on the Internet Archive, posted by the uploader, in which Rennie Sparks gives permission for the shows to be shared online (Hi Rennie!). I'm currently on a Handsome Family binge because I'm getting excited about going to seem them play in Norwich next week -- I've had the tickets for the show pinned to the noticeboard for weeks -- and I've had their latest album, Wilderness, on "pre-order" on Amazon since I bought tickets for the show. Can you see where this piece is heading? Have you caught  the general drift...?

I tend to buy what might be called "independent" recordings of little-known or non-mainstream artists as a way of supporting artists whose work I enjoy. (I don't really go in for much "mainstream" stuff, but as I stay still, tastes around me may change). I also support my favoured artists (not to mention petrol and train ticket retailers, venue operators and beer sellers) by going to see live shows, buying programmes, t-shirts and other merchandise.  Along with discs or files of live or unlicensed recordings (or "ROIO" -- "Recordings Of Independent Origin"), I have ticket-stubs, t-shirts and CDs by a whole panoply of performers: Holly Cook, Cobra Killer, Shivaree, The Handsome Family, and so on and so on et hoc genus omne.

I haven't bought anything direct from The Handsome Family, but I get the impression that Rennie and Brett sit at home stuffing envelopes and writing personal notes to the people that do order stuff (I baulked at buying the "deluxe" edition of the latest album, consisting of a vinyl LP, download link for a digital copy of the record, an accompanying book of essays and art, a poster, and a set of six postcards -- a veritable bargain at $50 -- because the additional $40 for international postage was prohibitive). That sense is created by the quirky, DIY, home-made nature of their website, and because the site asks people if they would like to have the CD (or book, or whatever) signed. It's a nice touch: personal and quirky.

The CD, placed on a book cover near the window for lighting.
I have, however, bought the latest Olivier Libaux CD, Uncovered Queens of The Stone Age. Here, half of la hommes derniere Nouvelle Vague, if you follow my Frangalis, has gone out on a limb to make an album of covers of Queens of The Stone Age. Now, I am not familiar with QotSA, although I do know Mark Lanegan became a member of the band, and I have enjoyed hearing Lanegan's collaborations with Isobel Campbell, and have, of course, seen the pair (Lanegan and Campbell) in concert and have bought the three CDs featuring their collaborations (Ballad of the Broken Seas, Sunday at Devil Dirt and Hawk). I have also greatly enjoyed Nouvelle Vague, and have bought several "special edition" CDs and have seen them perform live three or four times over the past few years.

It was, nonetheless, a bit of a punt to shell out €15 for a twelve track CD: Libaux's track record helped, as did the Lanegan connection, and there was also the fact that Ambrosia Parsley of Shivaree, and Skye Edwards of  Morcheeba, were performing vocals on a couple of the tracks. Everything else was unknown.

Unfamiliar but distinctly European handwriting
After some time -- about a week -- a CD-sized packet arrived  from France. The unfamiliar but distinctly European handwriting  that rendered the delivery address and return address was a nice touch. "Music for Music Lovers", on the back-flap, looked like it had been scribed along the guiding edge of a ruler. It sat above the return address, 2, Avenue Octave Greard, a place in the very heart of Paris, literally in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. What other personalised Parisian delights might I find inside? An autograph note from Olivier Libaux, perhaps: "bon chance, mon amie, et merci beaucaup, O. xxx"? 

Inside the packet was a CD, a postcard and a receipt for the transaction.  

The postcard, on a bookcover near the window for lighting

The text on the back of the CD reads as follows: "Then, the adventure began. I contacted singers -- some of my favourite voices in the world actually -- and they all said 'OK let's do it'. Thing is, I was in Paris, France. They were living in NYC, LA, Birmingham,London, Brighton,Seoul. So we did the whole thing using the Internet and modern technologies."

So far, so twenty first century: technology, internet, yadda yadda. Perhaps it would be remarkable to have been able to say "we were all in the studio together, with an upright bass, a farfisa, maracas a vintage semi-acoustic guitar hooked up to a fuzz box and a couple of Vox amplifiers. After rehearsing the material in the evening, we played through everything and captured it as a live  performance in one take. Afterwards, as we came out of the studio at about 4.30 in the morning, the sun was up, birds were singing and the air smelled of rain. We felt refreshed, as if we have been born anew." But I digress.

"Dear customer, bon chance, mon amie, et merci beaucoup"
The thing that stands out in the package is a line of text on the receipt: "Dear customer, this album you have just purchased has been made independently and on a tight budget. Please respect it, us and yourself. Don't share it online." It was only one line, but something about it rankled. Maybe it was the "tight budget" thing, or maybe it was that oft-used term "respect" sometimes rendered "respeck" following the popularity of the Ali G. pronunciation. Or maybe it was just the general tone of admonishment.

If "respect" is significant (if it isn't, why bring it up by typing it on the receipt?) then surely it's a two-way street. I wonder how a note to the Music For Music Lovers Team would go down if, along with the order for the disc, something along the following lines was included:
"Dear vendor, this album I have just purchased has been bought independently and on a tight budget. Please respect the transaction, me and yourself. Don't offend me by suggesting I might offend you by sharing this music with others."
 Meanwhile, following some brief exchanges with Brett and Rennie Sparks through some social media things on the subject of Spotify and Amazon purchases, I bought a couple of Handsome Family albums to fill the gaps in my back catalogue.  Somewhat remarkably, quite a short time after ordering the CDs, I received a twitter message telling me I had "won" a deluxe box set edition of their latest album, Wilderness.  No homilies, no nagging, no guilt-tripping. Just something that appeared to be mutual unvoiced respect.

Above: Carrot Top records made a video showing the goodies in deluxe box set

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