Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Death Of The Rock Snob

Is the world of digital music causing the demise of the Rock Snob? It would appear so:

While the term "Rock Snob" has a pejorative ring, the label also implies real social advantages. The Rock Snob presides as a musical wise man to whom friends and relatives turn for opinions and recommendations; he can judiciously distribute access to various rare and exotic prizes in his collection. "Oh my God, where did you find this?" are a Rock Snob's favorite words to hear. His highest calling is the creation of lovingly compiled mix CDs designed to dazzle their recipients with a blend of erudition, obscurity, and pure melodic dolomite. Recently, I unearthed a little-known cover of the gentle Gram Parsons country classic "Hickory Wind," bellowed out by Bob Mould and Vic Chestnutt, which moved two different friends to tears. It was Rock Snob bliss.

In some ways, then, the iPod revolution is a Rock Snob's dream. Now, nearly all rock music is easily and almost instantly attainable, either via our friends' computers or through online file-sharing networks. "Music swapping" on a mass scale allows my music collection to grow larger and faster than I'd ever imagined. And I can now summon any rare track from the online ether.

But there's a dark side to the iPod era. Snobbery subsists on exclusivity. And the ownership of a huge and eclectic music collection has become ordinary.

The end is coming for my music collection as a physical entity, but I'm fighting it off as long as I can. I've yet to purchase so much as a single track as a downloadable file. I'll change that soon, I predict. It'll mark a new low point in laziness.

The worst part about having a few thousand songs at my fingertips is that my finely-honed adherence to complete works is fading fast. I never liked the whole idea of the "shuffle" or "random" buttons on CD players, instead prefering to listen to a complete disc - good and bad, dammit! - as a measure of respect to the artist. The act of physically inserting the disc into a player was some sort of handshake, a promise to digest an album as it was intended. That promise is too easily broken with just a couple touches of a scroll wheel, and I'm not comfortable with that.

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