Music News

Notes From the Soundboard: Let's Get Physical

Notes from the Soundboard is a new column appearing weekly on

Crossfade,  focused on pop music's history and ongoing evolution. Lee

Zimmerman shares insights and observations on how music continues to

connect with the weirdness of the world. Click here to read past installments.

I have a gripe. 

I don't want my music on MP3s. I could care less what's streamed for me or what I'm allowed to download. And don't expect me to give my nod towards an iPod. The fact is, I don't own one.

 Now I realize this sounds incredibly archaic and that I'm clearly walking headfirst opposite a tidal wave of today's technology. So be it. I'll even go so far to say that when CDs become obsolete and its no longer possible to obtain music in physical form -- meaning with cover, packaging and jewel case -- I'll stop collecting. And I'm a music obsessive making that declaration, a guy that reviews music as an avocation and not an occupation. More and more publicists are trying to tempt yours truly with downloads and links and invitations to explore music on MySpace and other cyber realms. And frankly, I'm fed up.

The point is -- I collect ALBUMS. I don't accumulate new music because I want to enjoy it in a disembodied form. I like to fondle it, check out the credits, examine the cover art, stack it on the shelf next to other titles and appreciate the added elements that make up a great album package. You just can't do that when your music is transmitted through cyberspace.

Sure, I've heard all the arguments -- downloads and zip drives make the music more readily accessible. iPods offer literally thousands of tunes in a tiny, easily transportable package. You can program your own music and select only the tracks you like without wading through all the filler that a typical album offers. Not to mention the fact that it's also cheaper that way.

But guess what? None of that matters to me. I don't want to program my own albums; I want to hear -- and see -- it as the artist intended -- the songs all included, in the same order. And I want to know I have the complete package. I collect it like the coin collector collects his coins, like the shell collector scours the beach for the most perfect specimens. As any true collector will tell you, if any element is missing, it's simply not the same.

There is precedence for all this of course. What would the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper have been without its distinctive sleeve? Or David Bowie's iconic Aladdin Sane? Imagine listening to the Doors' Morrison Hotel or Iggy and the Stooges' Fun House or the Who's Who's Next without having the covers as a reference? What would it have been like to have Led Zeppelin II and none of the artwork to accompany it? Or hearing Janis Joplin or Grace Slick or Jimi Hendrix and having no indelible image with which to further identify their powerful presence?

So do me a favor and don't try to convince me I ought to separate the sight from the sound. Music is as much a visual medium as it is as auditory experience. God save the album as it's always been. And be assured that the next time a flack tries to get away with passing me an album through You Send It, I'm going to tell him or her where they can stick it.  

Namely, in the mail.

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Lee Zimmerman