, Gloucester, MA

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October 4, 2013

Something lost in short-cut translation

A man came into my music shop to order a compact disc (remember those — precursor to your iPod?). He wanted a song by John Prine, but didn’t know on which album it appeared.

I clicked a couple of keys on my laptop, and found the answer, mentioning that it was also on Prine’s “Greatest Hits.”

“Oh no,” he replied defensively and in mock horror! “I never buy the ‘Greatest Hits’ albums. I want it on the one where he first recorded it. I want to hear it surrounded by the rhythms and lyrics of the other songs that made up the mood of Prine’s entire album, the way he wanted it to be heard.”

My customer went on to say, “People just aren’t interested in wholeness anymore; they always want the short cut.”

An interesting conversation ensued. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to offer him the information regarding his song in two minutes. It would have taken two or three days and several phone conversations with more than one distributor from whom I ordered my music.

No denying that this represents the short cut, the quick fix, another product of the phenomenon set in place by the god of progress.

In the mid 1960s, I remember my mother exclaiming, “What did we ever do without it?” when we got our first electric clothes dryer (and right in our very own basement, no less!). And I heard her remark many times after that, “But the clothes sure don’t smell like fresh air anymore.” We used to love to press the sheets to our face and breathe in the outside air.

Everything is a trade-off. After my customer had left my shop, satisfied that I would order the CD, he thanked me in advance. He would look forward to hearing it again, he said with a smile, and to talking with me again, too. I thought how actual conversations like that occur less and less frequently these days between merchants and customers.

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