A Lament for the Lost Texts of Record Sleeves
Just a follow-up to my previous note on digital downloads. The loss runs deeper than I, at first, thought.
Much of my musical education came via record sleeves. From the song-writing credits of Eric Clapton’s Slowhand album, I found J.J. Cale and John Martyn; from the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty (what an album!!), I came to New Riders of the Purple Sage; from the Eagles I found J.D. Souther (that one didn’t work so well for me). And ultimately, from the pulp fiction novel on the Steve Gibbons Band’s Rollin’ On, I traced back the band’s family tree (and I am the owner of a rare original copy of Gibbon’s solo album Short Stories).
And what about links and cross-references? The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver’s drummer, Willie Wilson plays on David Gilmour’s first solo album which includes a song (Short and Sweet) co-written with singer-songwriter Roy Harper. Gilmour played slide guitar on one of SB&Q’s subsequent albums, Reach for the Sky and Harper sang on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Quiver were one of those bands whose members appeared all over with bass player Bruce Thomas later joining Elvis Costello and the Attractions, keyboard player Peter Wood playing on Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat and guitarist, Tim Renwick, becoming a major journeyman guitarist playing with among others, Roger Waters and Pink Floyd. It’s not just trivia (though it is clearly that); each detail is a gate to new music, new genres, breaking down misperceptions and demonstrating that regardless of labels and tags, musicians just enjoy playing music, regardless.
Downloading “anonymous” digital files removes all of that context, all of that richness. The All Music site does a fantastic job of collating that information but it isn’t immediate and it isn’t contextual.
A richness lost.