May 1st, 2008

summer reading

On the Road Again

I was watching a lecture from iTunes U the other day, this one on the topic of the intellectual landscape during ancient “classical” times. One thing the lecturer talked about was how it’s kind of a myth that the great break in the storehouse of ancient knowledge was the burning of the library at Alexandria. In fact, it was the development of new technology that caused a lot of old information to be lost. The new technology was the development of the codex, which was a superior system for storing written documents in comparison to scrolls of papyri. As use of the codex format took off, people had to choose what was important enough to warrant the expense and hassle of transferring from papyri to codices. Many things were lost because people at the time made judgment calls about what was worthy of keeping and what didn’t need to be kept for future generations.

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.

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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.

::Deep breath::

Wish me luck.
summer reading

Modern Day Poet

During my lunch/errand break (why do decent moisturizers that don't make me break out with allergic hives or acne spots cost so much? ::woe::) I grabbed a Portland Mercury to read while eating. I turned to the Savage Love column (I see his point about the gay marriage vs. polygamy issue), but had a few bites left to eat so started reading the adjacent page. This turned out to be the personal ads. I was quite enjoying wondering to myself things like "did the girl who expressed an interest in philosophy say 'Descrates' on purpose, did she misspell it, or did the Mercury?" when I ran across my second favorite personal ad of all time (here's the first):

Hip to be Square
In sum: I am a lot like Emily Dickinson, if she'd had Internet access and a penis.
Brewne*, 25, #123714

I nearly choked to death laughing. If it didn't cost $4.99, I'd likely be tempted to leave a message saying how full of awesome genius I find that ad. Or maybe ask him to help me think up something for my tombstone. Because it seems to me the kind of mind that could come up with that would be the kind of mind I could use to help me come up with one of those pithy tombstone sayings that people take pictures of and talk about for hundreds of years.

Ladies**, if money is no object you might want to respond. If you do, you simply must come back and tell me all about it.

*I'm not completely sure I got the name right. I also don't know if that 25 is supposed to represent his age or something else. There goes my chances of being an ace reporter.
**The ad was in the "Boys 4 Girls" section, so I'm thinking he's straight.