The Week in Arts: The faintly erotic pleasure of buying a new CD

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The Independent Online

The man behind the counter in my local record shop redefines the art of selling. In fact, selling is something he tries to avoid. It's vulgar. When I show him a CD I wish to purchase, he gives me a pitying look. "You want this? Really?" he asks despairingly. I mutter that Neil Young is pretty good. "Was," he replies firmly. "Was."

He doesn't exactly help me to expand my CD collection, but I shall miss him if, as widely prophesied this week, we are looking at the demise of record shops. The deal that Napster has made with record companies to facilitate the downloading of tracks will make it both easier and cheaper to build up your personal collection without venturing out of the house.

Peter Jamieson, chairman of the BPI, which represents the UK record companies, says that there is little doubt that "digital services are the future of the music industry".

I'm not so sure. Amazon and the other online booksellers failed to see off bookshops, though that too was widely predicted. Similarly, a surfeit of buying music on the net will remind us of the glory of record shops.

It's true that the town centre megastores are somewhat lacking in romance. But even they give the customer something the net can't: the ability to touch. It's ever so slightly erotic to handle CD covers - not as erotic as old-fashioned record sleeves were, it's true, but flicking through them and dashing from one aisle to another as a special offer or new release catches the eye has a certain physical pleasure. You may not be able to see it; but then I never see how people get physical pleasure from gardening.

The pleasures of the megastore, of course, are nothing compared to the very British pleasure of the small, local record shop. There one can chat, debate and, best of all, show off both to fellow aficionados and to the salespeople, always expert, always opinionated, always ever so slightly miserable. Perhaps it is day after day of watching customers choose the wrong records that puts them on the Prozac.

At my local shop I generally leave with nothing, because the man at the counter successfully puts me off everything I select. But he always has a big smile on his face, happy that he has demonstrated his expertise. In a way he personifies what record shops are meant to be, albeit in a more eccentric way than his bank manager might like.

A record shop is not just a place to buy CDs; it is a talking shop. It may suffer a temporary reversal of fortunes as Napster booms. But it'll be back.

Meet the world's most sycophantic press

Both Michael Moore and Quentin Tarantino basked in the glow of rapturous applause at their press conferences at the Cannes Film Festival this week. But they shouldn't let applause at Cannes go to their heads. It doesn't signify agreement with whatever controversial views have been expressed. It just means that they are in the presence of the most fawning journalists in the world.

I have never seen such sycophancy as at the Cannes press conferences. It's not just the stampede for autographs, though that too is a daily event. The so-called film critics from around the world ask questions that make you blush. For some reason the Lebanese are the most excruciating. At one festival Emma Thompson interrupted a paean to her by a Lebanese film writer to ask what house prices were like in Beirut, as she had decided to move there.

But my favourite "question" came, also from a Lebanese critic a couple of years ago, to Charlton Heston. "Mr Heston," she exclaimed, "you are my father, my mother, my sister and my brother."

¿ Last weekend, part of the ceiling at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, fell in on the audience, giving the performance of When Harry Met Sally a climax even more memorable than the one in its most famous scene. The audience even saw Luke Perry, playing Harry, come out of character to jump down from the stage and help the wounded.

A few days later a small fire broke out in the fly tower of the National Theatre. It was put out so effectively that the stage was flooded, delaying the world premiere of the new Alan Bennett play, The History Boys, by an hour.

Now, dare to tell me that theatre is no longer exciting. You've got to be kidding. Going to the theatre is the most dangerous game in town.