Thursday, August 25, 2005


Michael Crowley has an interesting essay on Rock Snobs and the implications of the digital music revolution for rock snobbery.
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. Thanks to the iPod, and digital music generally, anyone can milk various friends, acquaintances, and the Internet to quickly build a glorious 10,000-song collection. Adding insult to injury, this process often comes directly at the Rock Snob's expense. We are suddenly plagued by musical parasites. For instance, a friend of middling taste recently leeched 700 songs from my computer. He offered his own library in return, but it wasn't much. Never mind my vague sense that he should pay me some money. In Rock Snob terms, I was a Boston Brahmin and he was a Beverly Hillbilly--one who certainly hadn't earned that highly obscure album of AC/DC songs performed as tender acoustic ballads but was sure to go bragging to all his friends about it. Even worse was the girlfriend to whom I gave an iPod. She promptly plugged it into my computer and was soon holding in her hand a duplicate version of my 5,000-song library--a library that had taken some 20 years, thousands of dollars, and about as many hours to accumulate. She'd downloaded it all within five minutes. And, a few months later, she was gone, taking my intimate musical DNA with her.

Yes, but what exactly does it mean to her? I think for a rock snob, there's having and there's knowing. My snobbery never grew so much from a collection of rare and obscure recordings (although I am pretty completist within my particular obsessions) as it did from having heard a lot of music, having made an intentional study of music, and knowing its historical significance and being able to demonstrate its relationship to other music. A rock snob is in possession of secret knowledge that transcends the rough matter of this plane. Anybody can declare their own musical preferences superior, but a rock snob can demonstrate it logically.

I wouldn't say I download a lot of music, but file sharing has been great. I might never have found Starfleet Project otherwise. That's right, that's Brian May and Eddie Van Halen.

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