Prompted Groot.

Lootcrate Exclusive Glowing Groot Pop Marvel FigureWhoever dredged up the music for the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Deadpool’ movies is a genius.

I’ve pondered this for weeks as I trailed through the music on YouTube and where it lead me, even as I did other things – new hobbies, old habits. There’s a wash of nostalgia that I felt but couldn’t explain.

It bothers me when I can’t explain something. Little Groot dancing to the songs he did made me think back to the years where I rode around in the back seat of an array of cars, between States, between places, the journey almost always better than the destinations largely because of the music that oozed out of the impedance matched 8 track systems. To listen to the music is to want to feel the wind across my face and through my hair from the wound down window of the back seat of the Barracuda, or the station wagon, of the Power Wagon… and of the horrible radio in the ugly blackish Duster in Dayton, Ohio.

Undisturbed from the normalcy of what society defines life as – that busy and unproductive suite of actions that people fumble through daily – I was able to reconnect with thoughts and emotions that had been locked away for decades, the soundtrack of innocence of my age through the ears of hard won knowledge and wisdom.

We forget too much.

I suppose as we grow older – we get caught up in what society demands of us in the unfortunate Faustian bargain we are born into – different for everyone, yet the cost never truly seems to give us the value that we were sold in our innocence.

Do this. Get that. Follow this path. Get to this destination. Stay on the path. Scorn those off the path. Work hard and everything will work out.

Bullshit successes, largely, empty of meaning when achieved all because in that bargain born into, we never get to negotiate our own bargains because we don’t truly know what we can get, we are told we can get whatever we want…. and largely, we don’t. So we settle, we lose our dreams, we lose who we are in trying to become who we are not.

And yet, we can remember the days with the window down, the wind in our hair and across our faces, and the comfort of music through a now antique music system even as we watch the world visually attached to flat screens instead of the shifting landscape, with ears plugged with headphones locking people away from the world around them, lost to the collective Faustian bargains of those who came before.

In odd moments, prompted by music from our childhood, we remember these things – and I am left wondering what the newer generations will remember of their childhood in the Faustian bargains that previous and our own generations sold them.

GrootWe are Groot – tendrils of ourselves creating the new society, making the handles of tools that can be weapons, making weapons that can be tools, not forging ahead as in the Industrial narrative hammered into my generation by the Faustian blacksmiths of before.

Organically, we reach through the generations with the things we trade, and we only see the hours of toil instead of the shifting agreement for the hours of toil. In youth, we do not understand the world, and in age few of us do beyond our own little perspective, increasingly fed by what others tell us to think through the flat screens.

Where are the open windows of the backseats of cars that blew our hair, with soundtracks written by lyricists who lead us to question, to play, to ponder?

We were Groot. I’m not sure we still are.

Finally, The Right Entertainer.

A memory has haunted me for years, coming back to me now and then.  I was a toddler, alone – I know this because the light blue kitchen was enormous for me, and it took great effort for me to climb up onto the counter. I simply had to get closer to this song as it played.

It was this exact rendition of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” playing on the radio – which I just found. It’s a joyful memory. I laid my head against that old mono-speaker radio, delighted at the sound, with no care in the world.

For years, I found various renditions that could have played on the radio during that period. It wasn’t any of them – you can tell if you listen carefully.

But this was it, I found it 46 years later thanks to that memory, YouTube, Wikipedia, and a lot of trying to figure out exactly where I was when it happened.

And now I know.

Finally.

The Lost B Sides Of Our Lives

VINYLVinyl. Some audiophiles still say that it’s the best way to listen to music as they don their rubber gloves, pull their records out of the cardboard holders (plastic removed to avoid warping of the vinyl), carefully placing the record on the turntable, adjusting the speed for a 45 (single) or a 78 (album) post WW II, and 33 RPM later on for albums.

Today, the MP3 reigns supreme – a compressed version of the music where the frequencies are kept only to that which the average human ear hears. Yet there was a time before this, a time before the 8-track tapes and later cassettes and the then ubiquitous Walkman cassette players, before compact discs (CDs) (Hat tip to Valdis Krebs on his correction through LinkedIn).

In the house I grew up in, a Sansui amplifier and tuner was the core of the sound system – 2 Technics turntables, a reel-to-reel system, and a dual Technics cassette deck with Dolby recording and playback ability. When alone, the wooden floors vibrated as only speakers made in the 1970s would make them. Every Friday, Patrick and I would look over the Billboard Top 100 to watch the trends, and I would go off and buy some 45s at the local record store.

I learned early on that what I liked wasn’t always popular. With music slower to come by than it is today, I’d end up flipping the record over to hear the other single that came with the record. A great example of this was the B side of ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears: The Big Chair. A mixing dream, really.

I’d end up exploring the work of artists other than what was popular. Sometimes it was crap, something that the recording company chose out of their discography that didn’t even make it onto an album, and sometimes not.

We don’t do that anymore. I’m not even sure that many people did it in the first place, daring to spend the time to see if they liked the song, but I do know that at least some hit songs came from B-sides. You can read about some here, and some others here where you can listen to themThink songs like, “You can’t always get what you want” (Rolling Stones) and “Revolution” (The Beatles).

In an odd sort of way, we were allowed to explore the music of artists through their detritus on the B-sides of albums – the stuff that publishers ‘threw away’, not wanting to give a free hit single away with another. And yet, some of their greatest mistakes are treasures – some popular, some not, the listener deciding what was good or not simply by flipping a record over and checking.

Fast forward to today.

The Internet brought us the ability to get music like never before. I’d like to think most of us legally buy music, I’m certain at least some of us download without paying some service or publishing company. Artists in some cases have bypassed the middlemen in this, allowing us to purchase directly from them through websites. Some even make their music available for free here and there.

But the services, just like yesteryear, are about maximizing profit. There are no more B-sides; we are bombarded with things that are algorithmically decided for us as we stream music. Just as on social networks our digital shadow – what we do online – is used to decide what we see, so it is with our music. Alternative – how can something be alternative when it becomes mainstream? – is even decided for us. We are less consumers now, maybe, than we were before the Internet in that there is no conversation (hat tip to the Cluetrain Manifesto), decisions about what we get are decided not even by other human beings but by statistical and heuristic analysis of our data. We are, in the eyes of algorithms, what we were, and not what we can be – never-mind what we should be.

Generations have passed having never flipped over a vinyl record, having never read something not decided for them…. we are become the algorithms of our algorithms, the ‘tools of our tools’ as Thoreau might write today.

Unless we find the B-sides of our lives.

A Song Is Born

He writes what he’s seen, what
He’s observed and
Puts it all in prose, distilled now
It ferments a little and
Picks up a heady, full flavour
Of guitar, piano and tambourine.
The song is born, aged
Until it sounds right,
Done only when satisfaction
Greets him with a shy handshake,
He expresses what he feels
Through the beat of his soul.

Written in 1997 about Mad Anthony Wayne Waite.

As I recall, I watched him writing the song above.