I first became familiar with this very concept as the music industry embraced compact discs over LPs and cassettes. CDs have a superior sound quality, but replacing an entire library of cassettes and LPs with CDs is a large expense, so the process takes time, consideration and prioritization. The essential music was replaced nearly immediately. Thereafter it was a matter of whether the music company put the item out on CD, and if they did, which ones should be purchased next. This process of replacing cassettes with CDs is still an ongoing one for me.
A side issue for the musicians and manufacturers is the fact that music created using the old technology produces a different end product sonically than when the music is created using the new technology. So we buy the CD that was pressed from the original recording that used the old technology, then the original music is revisited to make it more compatible with the new technology, and we have to go out and buy the CD again to get the best sounding product possible. Given that this means, for some artists, I will have bought the same album not once, not twice, but three times, it really has me wondering about the music companies griping about how they aren’t making any money. As another example, U2 is re-mastering and re-releasing their first three albums this summer which means in the case of one of the albums, assuming I buy them (and you know I will), it will mean I will have bought War on four occasions because when it was originally released I purchased War on LP and cassette. This isn’t even taking into account the bulk purchase of their entire catalogue that happened when things became available at iTunes, which we did partly for the convenience of not having to upload all their albums manually to be able to hear them on iPods and mostly to get all of the remixes and b-sides in electronic format because I had a mixture made up of mostly vinyl and cassettes when it came to those.
For many years, when I’ve perused the shelves where we store our CDs, I’ve had this feeling that there is an important CD missing. It was always like a hole in my heart that I couldn’t find. I also couldn’t figure out how, if it was so important that I knew it was missing by the feeling I had in my gut if not the knowledge in my mind, I couldn’t remember which one was missing. Last night I figured it out.
You see, the reason it took this many years is that it’s an album by INXS. It’s been over ten damned years since Michael Hutchence committed suicide and I’m still not over it. Listening to INXS now is always just about equal parts pain and joy: there’s that happiness and love of hearing a music that hits you just right mixed with overwhelming sadness. I loved that band like crazy from the very first night I heard them as the opening band for the Stray Cats. To my mind, INXS was far and away the better act that night; I went out and bought Shabooh Shoobah immediately thereafter (on cassette). Since 1997, every time I’ve wanted to hear their music, I’ve ventured over for a look at our music shelves and thought “there’s something missing”. But I shied away from thinking too much about it because I almost couldn’t stand to listen to their early albums – the ones I had listened to the most over the years, the ones that meant the most to me – and thus almost always picked out something from later in their career. It was like a protective instinct to immediately reach for the later ones which had little to do with what I think of those albums as artistic efforts.
But last night I had a craving to hear a particular song and I realized I don’t have the CD the song originally came on. Once I figured that out, I found myself somewhat amazed I hadn’t ever bought The Swing on CD before Michael Hutchence’s death, but not surprised at all that I hadn’t bought it since. The Swing came in between Shabooh Shoobah and Listen Like Thieves and back in the day, those three albums were like Boy, October and War to me. In fact, as much as I listened to those three U2 albums around the time of their releases, it is very possible I listened to Shabooh Shoobah, The Swing and Listen Like Thieves more. It was kind of weird, actually, how U2 hit the public consciousness with The Joshua Tree in nearly the same way and around the same time as INXS did with Kick. They both went from being these bands it seemed like only I and a few others knew about to being huge sensations. But for whatever reason, when U2 went on to “chop down the Joshua Tree” and create Achtung Baby (arguably going from a height to an even greater height), INXS didn’t hit the sweet spot with their next album (X) in quite the same way. Thereafter, public consciousness of the two bands went on different trajectories, and a few years later Michael was dead.
Given that it’s been ten years I obviously need to accept that thinking of INXS is always going to be like poking at a particularly tender bruise. I’m determined to get The Swing on CD, and I will listen to it even though I know the whole experience will have a shadow over it. Somehow I need to get to a place where it’s not so painful; I want more of the joy back. I’m not sure if the path to that place is via listening to more of their music more often, but I suppose it’s worth a try. It may be a path paved in tears, but I think it’ll be worthwhile to take it and see where it leads.
Wish me luck.