We've all heard a lot about how the Internet has changed the face of the recording industry. The very way we experience music has been shaped by compressed files, pirating software and bored college kids (not to mention David Bowie's entire post-Tin Machine career). The music revolution will not be televisedit will be digitized.
Yeah, yeah. I don't know about you, but I've been a band nerd since way before stuff went digital. In fact, by high school I'd earned a reputation for shedding British Invasion-esque tears of hysterical joy in the presence of musical greatness. I cried when I was sure Chris Cornell was looking right at me, his biggest fan, and again later the same night when a roadie handed me Matt Cameron's drumsticks, dubbing me the most devoted-looking kid in the parking lot.
Just as important as the music itself was the research I resumed when each new issue of Spin magazine came in the mail. As I discovered in those pages, being a true fan is about doing your homework. Rolling Stone, Vibe, Alternative Press, whatever: A devotee needs a bible. Yet as much as die-hard fans may follow the ins and outs of our favorite bands, there's a limit to how concerned any of us can get about industry in-fighting over downloads and royalties. If you're not in the biz, who cares? You just want to hear the music. The real coup of the online revolution isn't futuristic, but back-to-basicsgetting the music to the fans with a minimum of bullshit. What could be more grassroots than that? If you want to get all Brave New World about it, there is a special bonus to being a rock snob in the information age. Official band sites, fan pages, list serves, discussion groups and MP3s make it much easier to become fluent than in the old days. From where I sit, the online music revolution isn't about record salesit's about homework.
Case in point: Have you ever heard of the Strokes? Neither had I, until last week when I stood in the aisle of a record store and paged through some smart, hipper-than-thou (and somewhat menacing looking) British music magazine. You should know: All the great love stories in my head have had just such a beginning. The initial public meeting, complete with clammy palms and quickened pulse (mine) and tight pants and over-the-top sex appeal (theirs). With their greasy jeans and vacant stares, the Strokes were sure to be my own private Next Big Thing. I made room for them in my mental hope chest.
Examining the magazine at home that night, I learned that these five guys are college students from New York but are signed to a British label (to maximize the obscure coolness factor). Also, that they're being touted as the Kinks-Television-Velvets-Dolls for the MTV set. This I had to hear. Plus, I was definitely in love with one of the faces on the page, but I wasn't sure whose it was; in its stylishly inscrutable way, the magazine had neglected to label the photos in any manifest way. It was time to get online.
The record company's web site was easy enough to find, and it was pretty generous with what visitors can listen to. Based on the singles I downloaded, I'd say the comparisons to the band's aforementioned fore-daddies are about right. The singer isn't a day over 20, but his voice is so gritty and throaty that, for all the world, he sounds like Lou Reed circa 1966. Needless to say, this boy was the one I'd fallen for, whatever his name was.
What does a seen-it-all backstage animal such as yours truly do at a time like this? E-mail the band! No kidding. We're talking about gonzo journalism here, people. I wrote and told the Strokes that pretty soon I would probably be, like, their biggest fanI just knew it. Truthfully, it was hard to imagine one of the sexy, semi-literate-looking boys in leather hip-huggers from the picture sitting down to his iMac with a mug of tea to write back to me. But the e-mail address on their web site seemed like a good bet. Who else would register an account called email@example.com? I shuddered to consider the possibilities.
To my delight, I got a response within the hour. And it was written by an actual Stroke! Albert, the guitarist, sent me a little note about their upcoming tour and said he hoped to see me at their next show. (So he's the nerdy-looking one with the Afro puff, I thought, plugging the record company's URL back in and gazing at the group promotional shot.) I was so star struck, I decided to never wash my inbox again. But it wasn't until Albert and I got into an actual dialogue that I felt justified in considering myself a full-fledged e-groupie. It didn't matter that the only reason we had a dialogue at all was because it took me three tries to get all the details about their tour out of him. His poor typing and organizational skills were proof of his gritty rock 'n' roll lifestyle! Plus, my fawning messages were sure to, er, stroke the burgeoning swagger so integral to his future onstage persona. Scratch "groupie"I'd become an online band-aid.
A few more web searches led me to all the pertinent information, like the album's release date and meaningful personal minutia. I put myself on the mailing list, printed out their tour schedule and saved the promo shot as my new screensaver. I even found a truly bizarre article from a college paper that seemed to have been written by one band member about another band member's battle with Lyme disease. It was pretty late at night at that point, but I swear I didnt imagine this.
At any rate, I am now more knowledgeable than just about anyone in America on my new favorite band, the Strokes. Just as it had always done, learning everything about a band made me feel important, like some kind of media insider. Add to that magical feeling the equalizing power of online anonymity, and this wannabe successful rock journalist was able to talk with a wannabe successful rock musician, without any dreadful PR people or conference calls. I'd hatched a revolution with a sound card and some free time.
So if it's as they (sort of) say, "On the Internet nobody knows you're a loser," then there's hope for all of us. And hasn't that always been the point of rock 'n' roll? To school oneself in the art of cool? Lester Bangs, God love him, didn't look like someone who'd been earmarked for coolness. It was only his love for rock stars that made him a rock star in the end. Bringing my bookish research skills into the Third Millennium, I'd discovered a new musical obsession to take me through the summer and made friends with a bona fide musician to boot.
Who are you calling a nerd?
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