I love music. Discovering, listening, collecting, playing (and, very occasionally, performing). It's been like that since the days of buying records in Woolies; at the time the only place you could buy music in my town (at least until the Spar at one of the local petrol stations started stocking cassettes). Saving up my pocket money and heading down town on my bike. Riffling through the racks of new releases and catalogue titles trying to determine the best bands in which to place my trust and limited resources. A little later, making an economic calculation on format - if I buy that CD it might sound better, but I can get two tapes for the same price… Feeling short-changed when I realised that three of the nine tracks on a record were filler. The wonderful moment when I stumbled on something that I knew would stay with me. The excitement as my horizons broadened; going to record fairs, travelling to other towns and other record shops, reading the NME and Melody Maker and seeking out new bands and genres, leaving home and meeting new people with different tastes.
Those experiences are why an article this month struck such a chord with me. Like the author, David Pierni, I can take a record or CD off the racks at home (the tapes are long gone - the first casualties of the iPod era) and remember where I was, who I was with, the bits of my life for which those tunes were part of the soundtrack.
In an odd way, those experiences make me loathe to admit the reality of my listening habits now. I still buy the odd music magazine (some habits die harder than others), but discovery these days tends to involve a combination of recommendations from friends, reviews on various websites and checking things out via streaming services. If I like something, I still try to buy it to support the artist, but I’ll often do that digitally. A physical purchase usually means that I either want to listen to an album on a stereo (something where fidelity matters) or that I’ve given in to my latent collector’s impulse (a band or artist I really like). Occasionally, I'll still stumble on something in the local record shop and pick it up there and then. (I’m lucky enough to have an independent record shop near home so try to support them too).
Even when I do buy a CD, the first thing I do is rip it to iTunes so I can have a copy on my phone. I understand the difference in quality, but the convenience is undeniable and the sound quality is 'good enough' for most situations. If I'm listening to tracks from my phone as I do other things (commute, cook dinner and so on) I'm not trying to pick up each subtle nuance in the playing. I'm just enjoying the tunes.
If I'm honest, the reason I'm loathe to acknowledge the change in my habits is simple nostalgia. Raking around the racks in Woolies or retrieving the tape from a cassette that had got caught and mangled in the deck wasn't necessarily better - it was just a particular time in my life when 'putting a record on’ involved particular rituals. It's easy to sit and romanticise times past, but things move on and we move with them. Nostalgia colours our perceptions, as the final sections of this article on the BBC sport website illustrate.
And who's to say that my formative experiences of music, of putting a tape, record or CD in a machine and playing it, were any more valid than someone putting in their headphones and swiping their finger across a screen? The rituals have changed, but Hendrix is still Hendrix, whether through a set of earbuds or via a crackly old copy of Axis. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, but it can't be the only consideration. It’s one lens, one filter, one perspective amongst the many we have available to us.
‘Good enough' is often good enough. Sometimes it’s better than that.