Bon Jovi shouldn't blame Jobs for killing music

Posted: March 18, 2011

Jon Bon Jovi is half-right: The music-listening experience has changed for the worse. But it's not Steve Jobs' fault.

Bon Jovi told the London Sunday Times Magazine that kids today lack "the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes, and getting lost in an album, and the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it."

About that, he's right.

I made one of the biggest mistakes of my youth the day I rented a space at a swap meet outside Kennedy Stadium and sold my album collection. My regret is such that in the intervening decades, I have painstakingly reconstituted my vinyl library. But it's not the same: They will always be someone else's albums, having borne witness to someone else's memories, not mine. But it's the best I can do.

Peter Frampton's Frampton Comes Alive! Supertramp's Crime of the Century. Yes' Close to the Edge. Cheap Trick at Budokan. Bad Company's Straight Shooter. The Eagles' Hotel California. Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run. Boston's first album. Jethro Tull's Aqualung. Lynyrd Skynyrd's Street Survivors (mine was the discontinued printing that showed the band surrounded by flames, pre-plane crash).

I had all these and about 50 more. Each one brings back a time, a place, maybe a scent, and often specific memories. Hall and Oates' Abandoned Luncheonette, anyone?

Those of us who bought music in the 1970s remember that the vinyl was only part of the experience. Beyond the music was the album artwork, the liner notes - including who played what on which track - and sometimes the added benefit of a poster for your bedroom (like the one I got from inside Cat Stevens' Greatest Hits).

When you acquired Yes' Fragile, you were getting not only Jon Anderson's angelic voice singing "Roundabout" but also Roger Dean's artwork. And how many of us can picture Roger Huyssen's spaceship adorning the first Boston album, and remember the exaltation of the write-up on the back? ("Listen to the record!") My affinity for album art was such that I once had a London taxi driver take me to the Battersea Power Station just so I could see the inspiration for the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals (designed by Storm Thorgerson).

No wonder I raked leaves in my junior high school days just to earn the money to buy Genesis' Wind & Wuthering. Although I can no longer remember lunch by the time I eat dinner, I can still recite the words to the obscure tune "Mad Man Moon," from the group's album A Trick of the Tail. Why? Because the lyrics were written in script inside the jacket, and I studied them.

The gold standard was Lynyrd Skynyrd's One More From the Road. This double album of live music was recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta during July 1976. The front of the jacket featured the band in full concert form. Inside was a review of the shows by Cameron Crowe, then a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.

"When the last notes of 'Free Bird' had faded out on the third night, they had given everything," Crowe wrote. "Euphoric and exhausted, Ronnie Van Zant plopped on a backstage sofa and kicked his bare feet onto a table. His voice was gone. 'I sure am glad I don't wear shoes when I'm out there singing,' he whispered. 'I love to feel that stage burn.' "

Next to the Crowe review was a collage representing the Skynyrd lifestyle: cigarettes, bullets, Confederate flags, a bill for damage done by the band on the road, a bottle of Jack Daniel's. Touching the album sleeve and studying the images gave me an appreciation for the music that no download could inspire.

I get Bon Jovi; we're the same age. The rocker was wearing headphones in his bedroom in New Jersey while I was doing the same in Pennsylvania. But unlike him, I don't blame Jobs.

Said Bon Jovi: "You mark my words: In a generation from now, people are going to say, 'What happened?' Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."

But change was coming long before iTunes.

I have owned Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon as an album, an eight-track, a cassette, a CD, and a download. Each has the same music, but the album offers an unparalleled experience. The fact that the iTunes version can't match the album isn't Jobs' fault, and neither are the shortened attention spans of today's young people. Accustomed to downloading individual songs, they don't have the patience for a full album, much less liner notes.

I didn't have as many choices as they enjoy, which is usually to their benefit. But not when it comes to listening to music.


Michael Smerconish can be reached via www.smerconish.com

 

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