Once before a recent Christmas our satellite dish broke We had no TV. We coped, just. The only benefit was that there were no toy adverts to brainwash our children. The endless high pressure sales pitches work too well on our two little credit card consumers! It also brought to my attention something that hadn’t occurred to me before.
An advert for the Kung Fu Panda 2 DVD had blasted out of the TV one day and our 6 year old turned to me and said
“I really want that!”
I said “well, Santa is coming soon. So you never know.”
He looked at me in a slightly pitying way and said, as kindly as he could
“You could just order it now, on the computer”
I wittered something about disappointing Santa and coal in his stocking. This led to questions about what coal is and eventually I managed to change the subject.
It got me thinking. Nowadays, the world is so instantly, immediately available right now. Nothing is worth waiting for. If we see something we want we just get it. We hear a song and we turn to I-tunes or Spotify and their instant gratification. It’s the same with TV and films with YouTube, Love fFlm and Netflix. If you have a question, something half forgotten, you don’t exercise your brain trying to remember it, you Google it.
There is no anticipation anymore. I miss anticipation, the thrill of waiting.
Why don’t we use music to show how this has been lost.
For that we need to travel back to 1979. God, that’s a long time ago! It was when I had just become a teenager and was embarking on a long and pedantic career of music snobbery. There was no internet, no computers, hardly anyone even had teletext. If you wanted information you had TV, radio, newspapers and word of mouth. Let us use the release of an album that year as an example of the slow dissemination of information.
It was a big year. Pink Floyd released The Wall, The Clash released London Calling, Elvis Costello released Armed Forces….. and Rod Stewart gave us Do Ya Think I’m Sexy. Hmmm. However there is currently an exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow of AC/DC memorabilia. They are one of my favourite bands, though I am a bit disconcerted at them appearing in a museum… So let us use that year’s Highway To Hell album from AC/DC.
The sort of noisy, hairy, heavy rock stuff I liked never really got mentioned in the mainstream press so I would get most of my news from one of the weekly music papers. My preferred choice was Sounds. The trendy fad followers would get NME. Hopeless cases would get Melody Maker. The lost and helpless would get the Record Mirror.
In March of ’79 rumours appeared in Sounds of a new album being recorded. We couldn’t go on to Amazon to pre-order it as soon as we knew of its existence and then sit back relax and be surprised when it appeared at our front door. What we did was tell all our mates that there may be a new album, sometime this year. Something to look forward to and endlessly discuss.
A couple of months passed and nothing else was heard. No internet chatter. Nothing on Twitter, no speculation in Facebook pages. Just us talking on the train, to and from school, or at break time, wondering what the album would be like. Then an advert and a news story appeared announcing that the new AC/DC album was to be called Highway to Hell and would be released in July. Ooooh! That meant there might be a tour too. Another great way of showing just how things have changed.
So every Saturday afternoon, we would all troop into Town, as Glasgow city centre is called, and head up to the top of Union St. A greasy haired procession of spots and dandruff. Decked out in the uniforms of the teenage rock fans – denim and combat jackets, covered in band logos, with too tight for comfort patched jeans. No wonder we didn’t have girlfriends.
We were heading for the Apollo, Glasgow’s legendary music venue. It was a converted theatre with a 13 foot high stage (row W was about level with it) and the most feared bouncers anywhere (they wore dinner jackets and frilly fronted shirts with bow ties but could still beat the living crap out of you for enjoying a gig). We were going there because tickets might go on sale after the music press had been published. Phoning the Apollo to find out if there were tickets available was almost impossible as the phones there were always engaged. Of course, there was no website to check.
Once at the Apollo you would dash in to see what gigs were on their notice boards at the box office. No checking the smart phone or sitting at the keyboard repeatedly clicking to see if you get a couple of tickets in the 29 seconds between the webpage going live and the tickets being sold out. You wouldn’t have to go all the way to the Apollo, you knew if a big gig was on when a queue snaked its be-denimed way from the box office through the foyer and back down a drizzly Union St.
The nightmare scenario was if two or three bands were touring at the same time and you had spent all day queuing only to be told, when you finally made it to the front of the queue, smelling of wet denim and desperation, that your band had sold out hours ago but how about Barclay James Harvest? Plenty left for them.
As the release date of the album approached reviews started appearing in the music press. Sounds, bastion of all that was hairy and heavy in rock, loved it. The NME, home to all that was trendy, fleeting and “indie,” was a bit sniffy and condescending. Melody Maker sounded like somebody’s dad trying to keep up with the kids.
Meanwhile you waited for the much anticipated and apparently very good album. There was no instant fix. You knew weeks in advance that something might happen soon but there was no “I’ll just pre order on Amazon or iTunes.” You never considered pre ordering at a shop, that wasn’t part of the fun, the added what-if-it’s-sold-out tension. Anyway I wasn’t brave enough to try that in a Glasgow record shop. The instant and offhand ridicule and condescension that you got from the young men that worked in the shops, especially Listen – my all time favourite record shop – was horrific. The only entertainment that these young men had (other than juggling records and sleeves like Tom Cruise handled bottles and glasses in Cocktail) was humiliating earnest and nervous young boys (girls bought records in Woolworths – that glib assertion is going to get me into trouble). It was a rite of passage to go in to Listen and ask for an album that you just knew was going to get you a verbal pasting off one of the know-it-alls behind the counter (mine was going in to ask for not just one but two copies of Jon Lord’s “Before I Forget”). Fortunately for us, but not them, retribution in the shape of the new Virgin mega-store was just around the corner. We flocked to its 5 floors of coolness and its helpful friendly staff. They didn’t laugh at you and call you names for going in wearing your school uniform. Listen paid the ultimate price. Which was a pity, as they had the coolest bags.
Wonder what happened to all those guys? They probably ended up being the people who enjoy being complete bastards in call centres.
Finally, the album would arrive and you would dash into town and get your copy. You would clutch your really cool Listen poly bag tightly until back on the train home. Then you would sit and examine the sleeve carefully. Digesting all the information written on the back, from the track listing to where the record was pressed. Then you would slowly remove the inner sleeve to see if it was a picture one or not. Always a bonus if an album had one.
This is lost now. Everything is just a lazy click away. I could once upon a time tell you the track listing of all my albums. I could tell what was coming next by the clicks and hisses the record made between tracks. I know that sounds more than a bit sad but there was genuine enthusiasm and excitement about what I listened to. Now it all gets dumped on my Ipod and played randomly. It is very rare for me to listen to an album in its start to finish and its correct running order.
I am a little disappointed in myself.
That first play of an album was an almost religious experience. A bunch of us would gather in the chosen place of worship. Usually the bedroom of who ever had bought the album or, if more than one had purchased it, whoever had the best hi-fi.
We would sit around trying to look as casual and cool as a 13 year old heavy metal fan can. Inside, we were overwhelmingly excited at what we were about to hear. He who purchased and is therefore the anointed one would remove the album from the sleeve with suitable reverence and place it upon the blessed turntable and the holy stylus would be lowered and we would hold our breath as it made that clunk-clunck when it caught the groove.
Highway to Hell didn’t disappoint. From the opening title track to the shasbat, nanoo-nanoo on the outro it was post pubic heavy metal fan heaven. Well worth the wait then. I can still remember that first listen. It was the culmination of months of eager anticipation and joy that came down to that moment I had been waiting so long for when the speakers began to crackle (something my children don’t understand, the noise of a record beginning to play). It is something that has been lost. There is no “it’s a gatefold!” burst of excitement. I still love the spinal tingle of hearing a song that has connected viscerally with me but I have lost everything else that went with it. Now I just click, download and sync. I have downloaded albums that I have no idea what the cover, running order or even the names of the songs are. My teenage self would be ashamed of middle-aged me!
Which is all a crying shame. I feel sorry for my children and their instant world. The thrill has gone.