Mon | Oct 22, 2018

When music gets out of touch

Published:Thursday | September 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Dexter ‘The Ska Professor’ Campbell indicates a small section of his vast vinyl collection.
Japanese record shop owner Masaya Hayashi (left) looks at some Jamaican vintage albums with renowned music collector Dexter Campbell.

There was a time when I was able to literally touch the music which moved me at will. Not the sound, of course, but the aural experience was accompanied by the opportunity to hold the medium that carried it to me.

It started with the vinyl records in a lower compartment of my parents' 'whatnot', below the shelf with the record players, where the Otis Redding single These Arms of Mine was among the earlier stash, with Michael Jackson's Thriller (remember how the jacket opened up to show him reclined with a big puss, wearing a white jacket?) and the Footloose soundtrack among later purchases.

I will always remember staring at the Bob Marley and the Wailers Confrontation LP on the records shelf at Harbour View Shopping Centre and promising myself that I would own it one day (I never did). Then came the cassettes - the originals like a Skatalites and a Kenny Rogers collection (New Edition could not be left out), a Pinchers and Cocoa Tea combination done at a record store for about $40, many a dancehall cassette bought outside the vendors' arcade on Constant Spring Road (Silverhawk and Stone Love were favourites), double decks were a joy, because now we could copy cassettes - at high speed too!

The sound systems were still using vinyl, and one of the great delights was to gather around the turntables with fellow dancehall enthusiasts in the closing moments of the dance when most of the people had left and watch the selector flip through the crates, find the tune, put it in the turntable and spray it with some sort of mist then apply the needle.

Then came CDs, then came MP3s, then came Napster and its successors like Spotify and iTunes, the turntables were replaced with Serato and I literally lost touch with music. Ironically, I can now go on YouTube and listen to anything I wish, songs that I could not access before because of cash or availability, plus there are tons of videos to watch, and I have never felt more removed from music which I still enjoy.

I know it is the reduction in the tactile experience, the loss of feeling in the hands that has created this loss of feeling in the soul.

It is also a loss of a sense of experience and community. Buying an LP, cassette or CD inevitably brought you into contact with other people who loved the same sounds you did. It could be the person who sold you the music medium, but more likely it was other persons who were there to buy music or just hang out, because tunes were always on in the record store or at the street side. Every trip to the cassette man or the record store was an experience you relived once you played the tunes.

I still remember the Maxell 60-minute black cassette with blue and white label that I got recorded with Pinchers and Cocoa Tea songs in about 1988 at a record store in Morant Bay, St Thomas, near Kitchen King. Close my eyes and I am in the music shop again.


Music Exchange


There was also a process of exchange, because inevitably there was more music you wanted than cash at your disposal, or another brethren had this wicked Creation with Papa San, while you had a King Jammys with Major Worries. So you swapped and he loaned someone else yours, you passed on his to someone else, you quarrelled, you reconciled, you exchanged again, it went on and on.

This matter of touching extended to people as well. There may not be a direct connection, but men and women actually touched each other as they danced. Not in the frenetic hammering of daggering, but the groove that is bliss.

The browsing of the record store's stock has been replaced by browsing the Internet; hanging out at the roadside cassette man and exchanging ideas on music with a stranger is now the comments section on YouTube; a sound system stringing up has in many cases been reduced to a 'pouchie' walking into a party with a laptop.

The sense of community has been reduced Not lost, but certainly lessened. It is not a matter that the good old days are automatically the better old days, but there was a hell of a lot more feeling in putting your cassettes in order and dusting them off than saving a couple hundred or thousand songs to an external hard drive.

I have access to more music than ever for free, so why do I feel my experience has diminished?