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Burning Up

Napster's got x's for eyes now, and the Recording Industry Association of America is a bunch of idiots. They say file-sharing and CD-burning is killing the music business. They insist that it's not Limp Bizkit or Muddles of Pud or Linkin Park; that it's really we music lovers making our recordable CDs at home who are responsible for the downturn at the cash register.

What bullshit. But in its zeal to preserve profits, the RIAA wants to thwart any copying of any recording whatsoever, and they're already taking steps. SCMS (Serial Copy Management System), their ankle-bracelet security device for encoding CDs, will remain a threat. The promotional copy of the Blue Crush soundtrack sent to our office won't play on a computer, so that its precious fruit -- like Beenie Man's "Party Hard" -- cannot be digitally harvested to one's hard drive. In that instance, it's OK: The thing looks better sitting on a desk anyway.

Most heinous about the industry's attempts to stifle music lovers is that all the fun we have recording music could be jeopardized. Anyone who grew up in the courtship-by-mix-tape era knows the joy of making compilations from various sources. Some still pine for those days, like A.J. Michel in last summer's Utne Reader, who complained that making CDs on a computer will never have the hands-on feel of making cassettes, primarily because "you can't listen to the songs while you're creating a CD! Why should I spend extra time with a computer? It feels like work!"

Actually, recording music by computer affords a much greater degree of control over the source. New software takes care of pops, clicks, and hiss. It requires more work, and one does feel like working in a glove box, but the result is much more satisfying.

Thanks to this column, actually, I've been put in touch with a West Palm Beach music fanatic. He roots through my record collection -- and I through his -- not over the Internet but by trading burned CDs. Dubious legality aside, it's a blast. And it closes the window on the chilling wind that has followed Napster's demise. Trading rarities, obscurities, and live bootlegs is what we music freaks live for, and we'll always find a way to do it.

In fact, some of what we're trafficking in is so obscure, it's hard to imagine anyone who'd care. Case in point: Perennial Divide. Amazingly, a search of allmusic.com's vast encyclopedias turns up nothing -- remarkable because if allmusic's staff doesn't know about it, it'll usually make something up. Perennial Divide was the first band captained by Jack Dangers, who went on to lead the eccentric industrial act Meat Beat Manifesto. The band's sole album and pair of singles, released in 1986-87, have vanished without a trace. Most die-hard Meat Beat fans have never even heard Perennial Divide. Funky, claustrophobic, and impossibly rare, Perennial Divide lives on thanks to thieves like us. Same with Turning Shrines, an early project from Fred Giannelli, who is now a Boston DJ but served as the guitarist for Psychic TV back in the late 1980s and early '90s. Turning Shrines' sole album (1988's Cinnabar and Porcelain) and single (1985's Face of Another) are almost mythical -- I've never seen another cop y or spoken to anyone else who owns one -- and among the trippiest, most esoteric experiments ever committed to record. Of course, the album's obscurity just makes it all the more precious. I found both Perennial Divide and Turning Shrines at a used record store in Denver.

Now that egregious gouging seems aimed directly at archivists, collectors, and completists, we really need a Napster-type service. Those souls devoted to scouring for those cut-outs, that ultra-rare picture disc, that rare Japanese EP, or whatever feel abused when they must buy songs they already own just to have one or two they don't. A perfect example is Dead Can Dance, whose fans are legion and gobble up every concert recording or rare track like a garlic-dipped delicacy. Rhino Records put out a boxset last year containing 47 songs and a DVD. Who'd buy something like that? Only a hardcore Dead Can Dance fan. And why would he shuck out $55 for it? For the six previously unreleased and unheard songs along with the 41 they no doubt already own.

We could get into the whole Buckingham/Nicks thing right about now, but that would be a whole 'nother column, wouldn't it?

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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