So HMV and Blockbusters are both going into administration.
It is a sad loss of course and no doubt there will be much said and written in a nostalgic vein about the halcyon days of browsing through music and films in a real-world, non-virtual environment, or ‘shop’ as it used to be called.
In terms of music, there will be much talk about the visceral experience of leafing through rows of albums; the delight of the cover art; the joy of making that rare discovery; the building sense of anticipation as you dash home in eagerness to rip off the packaging and get at the contents before finally putting it in, pressing play and embarking on an hour of sensual bliss.
In fact the almost sexual language that people often use to describe music shopping tells us more about the adolescent, sexually frustrated age at which we did it than about the experience itself.
I have those nostalgic memories as well but I have to ask myself, if it was so good why don’t I do it anymore? Why have I downloaded and live streamed all my music for several years now? In fact if I’m really honest, if I take off the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia and really, truthfully try to remember those experiences of music shopping, were they really all that great?
Let’s just cast our minds back...
It is the weekend – two blessed days off school or college. So, in lieu of a sex life, you head into town to buy an album. You are excited of course. There is so much great music out there just waiting to be discovered – old bands, new bands, bands you’ve never even heard of before. Yes, so much stuff you want to listen to...all completely wiped from your mind the minute you enter the shop.
Never mind, you tell yourself, this is the authentic music-shopping experience – the thrill of the new discovery. So, inspired by an album cover or some half-remembered recommendation from a friend, you make your selection and rush home – if waiting for twenty minutes in the rain then sitting on a bus that tours every housing estate in the county can be called rushing.
Back in your bedroom with the door safely locked from philistine parents and uncouth siblings, you tentatively put the album in the machine and press play with a trembling hand. All your hopes and dreams for today are held in the next hour of music...
Fast forward twenty minutes. It is track five of the album and all five tracks have merged into one tuneless, monotonous dirge in your mind. You wouldn’t be able to whistle two consecutive bars of a single song if your mum’s life depended on it, such is the unmemorable nature of the music. You are getting restless and fidgety. Every fibre of your being is begging you to hit the stop button. But no, you must carry on because you went to all the effort of going into town to buy this bloody thing and anyway there’s always the chance of finding a hidden gem somewhere on side two. You check the sleeve. There are still eight tracks to go and the penultimate song is an eleven-minute epic. You let out a tortured sigh, sit back and close your eyes, trying desperately to ‘get into it’ whatever that means.
It doesn’t happen. By track nine you are thinking of inventive ways to kill yourself with a CD case and a Rubik’s Cube. The experience of getting through track twelve – the epic – is more like the cold turkey scene from Trainspotting than an act of musical appreciation. Finally the end comes. You reach out gratefully for the stop button, but no – the ultimate, nightmarish twist of fate – more music breaks out. Yes, it is the dreaded ‘hidden track’.
It wouldn’t be so bad but you know that next week you will repeat the whole process with the same record because of the nagging doubt that it might be ‘a grower’, one of those albums you need to ‘get into’ – that phrase again – by putting yourself through the same hell multiple times.
So, that’s music shopping for you. Surely going out to rent a film was more pleasant? It’s almost the antithesis of the music shopping experience, something you do a bit later in life, not only when you have a sex life but actually as part of your sex life. It’s a Friday or Saturday evening thing. You do it with your partner – a bottle of wine, a takeaway and a DVD to spend the night snuggling up in front of.
Except, again, how often did this Disney version really happen? For me renting films caused as many, if not more, arguments than romantic nights in. This is because of the thorny and unavoidable issue of what film to choose. Of course, you may be in one of those rare couples where you are both always in the mood for the same type of film but back here on planet Earth there is the ritual joust of proposal, counter-proposal and final agreement which more closely resembles a Cold War stand off than a romantic night in. The final choice in this ‘Great Game’ of film choosing leads either to one side caving in with a great show of magnanimity (utterly fake) or the even more soul-destroying ‘compromise’ which involves a choice so crushingly insipid that neither person can be bothered to raise an objection.
The outcome of these negotiations is that you spend the evening watching a film that either A) one of you would never have chosen or B) both of you would never have chosen.
So there you are. Maybe the next time I start to moan about the loss of music and film-rental shops as I skip lightly between live streaming songs while waiting for my film to download, maybe I’ll cast my mind back to the realities and feel happy with what progress has led to – a night in with my girlfriend watching two different films on two different laptops. Oh the romance...