Thinking about Music “Piracy” (Again)


Let’s suppose I’m currently listening to Masahiko Togashi’s Guild for Human Music (1976) via an MP3 I ripped from YouTube. It’s not an optimal listening experience but it is the only way I have found to listen to this music offline. I would, of course, survive without it but knowing it’s out there and knowing some of Togashi’s other work, I feel compelled to snatch it up and listen. That is, the very availability of this recording which I’ve never seen in person and which is prohibitively priced for all but the most ambitious collectors, and which purchases offer no financial gain to the artist or even the label, makes me question how much harm is being done by grabbing this album as I have. Do the same standards apply to this sort of situation as do for, say, ripping music from a living, contemporary artist? I’m inclined to think not.

It reminds me of the network of blogs from 10 or 15 years ago that provided rips of out-of-print or obscure records by long gone artists and labels. These recordings sacrificed their profitability for availability, and their sources provided a centralized space to find them. The popularity of these blogs led, no doubt, to some significant re-releases of these records, many on vinyl with new packaging and notes. I can’t imagine Abdul Wadud’s By Myself, for example, ever seeing a proper re-release without having been available via these sites. All of which might simply be a way to euphemize the ripping but I do think it can, at its best, serve to inform listeners about music we would otherwise never hear.

It’s might be worth noting that the Wadud re-release costs ~$30 today. Adjusted for inflation, that would have been ~$6 in 1978 when it was originally released, a typical price for a record back then. From the look of things, or at least Billboard’s point of view, the relative price of the record hasn’t changed much at all. Which is to say, if the record in question, e.g. Guild for Human Music, was available, I would gladly buy it, but for the moment, the rip will have to do.

30 Years Ago Today

My wife reminded me that today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of For Your Own Special Sweetheart. 30 years! I can’t say it seems like yesterday, but I can say the kids who wrote and played and worked on it did the best they could. The photo above was taken in front of CBGB around the time we were writing and finishing those songs. I can’t seem to find the photographer’s name to credit her but she also took another, better known photo of us that day. In that one, my eyes are closed. Jawbox blinked often but never in unison.

Our first tour in support of the record was with Girls Against Boys. Last night I dreamt I was in a van with Scott McCloud and Johnny Temple. Coincidence is a simultaneity to which we retrospectively attribute meaning. I suspect that somewhere in the lyrics on FYOSS this point is made obliquely and aggressively.

“Friendship cannot exist without Forgiveness of Sins continually.” — William Blake

Happy birthday, Sweetheart.

Why I Moved to New York City

“I am going to lose myself in the busy crowd and plunge with it into the open gullet of city and boredom, shuttle from one brief neighborhood to another, underground, like the rats. I am going to ride until there is no more stop or signal, ride between two doomed worlds which a whistle, shrill like the scream of a child-woman riveted to her own vertigo, calls back to the formless world of shadows. I am going to break away from myself through that docile part of me which is not afraid of compromise.”

— Jabès, Yukel, p.28

The Power Broker and 99pi

I’ve started reading The Power Broker in preparation for following along with 99 Percent Invisible’s 100-pages-per-month 2024 book club. The idea is that reading a 1200 page book is easier to handle if the assignment is 100 pages a month culminating in a podcast reviewing and researching that month’s pages. I’m into it. At a minimum, it’s like 3-4 pages a day but I’ve found it far more engaging than that. I like the idea of taking a year to get through it. I did something similar, though unguided, with Infinite Jest (back in 2009, I read at least 5 pages a day for roughly 6 months) and many years ago with Ezra Pound’s Cantos (a Canto a day for 120 days). It’s not the way I usually read but it brings a kind of intimacy to bear, a measured (and more enduring?) sense of the depth of commitment required to write a book of such length. Looking forward to this one.

Favorite Albums of 2023

My favorite albums of 2023 list is up at BrooklynVegan. It’s my third such list for them and the third time I’ve immediately had other thoughts about my selections. I failed to include Bex Burch’s There Is Only Love and Fear, for example, not because I don’t think it one of my favorites from 2023, but because, embarrassingly, I forgot about it. Also Jeremy Chiu or New Future City Radio, the latter of which was most powerful and inspiring when I saw them here in New York. But that’s just one record label and so seems narrow for the purpose of a favorites list. I suppose this is the difference between a favorites list and a best of, that the favorites is simply preferences while the best of is a more direct and public critical view. All of which is to say that my favorite label of the year was once again International Anthem. Their ongoing effort to sustain a consistent release schedule, an expanding roster, and a holistic listening culture is, to me, currently unrivaled.

Another aspect of this process that comes to mind is the common sight of Andre 3000’s New Blue Sun on many end-of-year lists, including mine. I wonder how we’ll all feel about this record in the near or distant future. I imagine it won’t hold up as well as, say, Shabaka Hutchings’s Afrikan Culture, another recent release inspired by flute experiments. Hutchings is a woodwinds and improvisation virtuoso. Andre 3000, on the other hand, is more of a lightning rod for certain kinds of taste and atmosphere, always hip, always demonstrating a unique flair for contemporary preferences. It’s a different kind of innovation, I think, a sort of placeholder to remind us what we’re into, even if we haven’t heard it yet.

All of which is to say that the 2023 list reflects an honest, if not altogether thorough, appraisal of what I enjoyed this past year. I hope you find something there to enjoy yourself.

Thoughts on Notes on the Anniversary of 9/11

Here’s the annual link to what I thought about 9/11 back in 2012. I might write it differently today but I still feel that way.

It’s worth noting, I think, that COVID has killed far more people here in New York City (and around the world) than the 9/11 attacks, and isn’t through with us yet. But even COVID, or perhaps especially COVID, has spread as it has from neglect and a failure to react by a government whose election and appointment grew out of the fear implanted by 9/11.

One consequence of this fear is a perilous distrust, mangling, and confounding of information and its sources. Another is a perilous belief, in the form of retreat and denial, that we can control or evade the other consequences of the attacks on behalf of our own privilege, entitlement, comfort, and self-interest. We are stoned on this and dying from it.

A Record A Day 2023: April

I’m falling further and further behind as the year goes on but am still posting what gets played. My hope is that I’ll catch up during holidays or something. I’m currently 26 plays short for the year, approximately 5 plays per month. Such calculations don’t help much, though. In any case, you can find the available April plays here on Apple Music. Enjoy!