JAIMIE VERNON – ROCK, PAPER, SNIFFERS

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We were promised a paperless society by the technology gurus of the 1980s. It’s been over 30 years since IBM launched the concept of the desktop computer. It was going to IBMrevolutionize personal communication – even before the advent of the internet – and they were right. But that vision was gratuitously optimistic. I worked for the company that built the wiring systems for these beasts…back when they were the size of a gas furnace and ran on steam power and 47″ floppy discs containing 64k of memory. We were contracted to build about 150 wiring systems a week for their machines. I went to head office in Don Mills where they had motorized robotic pool tables shuttling CPU’s and 70 lb. Scare-o-Vision cathode driven monitors through a warehouse larger than Cape Canaveral. They were moving 10 of these units at a time…and over the course of a year they were selling less than 50,000 worldwide.

Wozniak JobsWhy the fuck would anyone want a computer – a glorified calculator and word processing hybrid – the critics asked? And sure enough, the North American consumer market wasn’t ready and ignored the invention en masse. IBM transferred its manufacturing to Scotland (effectively eliminating my job) and imported the finished systems back to North America for the elite business class who didn’t mind the $1499 price tag for a radiation spewing monochrome typewriter. IBM eventually abandoned their own investment in the PC market and went back to building systems that could more effectively run NORAD or Wall Street. Wozniak, Jobs and Gates would dream bigger, invest harder and the rest, as they say is MacHistory.

SkynetBut we’ve still got paper. The machines and their ever increasing vision of gaining self-awareness have yet to resolve the issue of collective memory. Of information storage that can never be denigrated or destroyed. Oh, there are companies that will permanently hold your data in vaults beneath Cheyenne Mountain or the Salt Flats of Nevada, but that’s some pretty expensive real estate. The future professes a solidarity by sharing globally through ‘The Cloud’ – a virtual world where access to your important personal or business documents is instantly at your finger tips no matter where you are in the known universe.

Then why are we still cutting down trees and bleaching parchment that sells for $4.99 a ream at Staples Business Centres? Because technology still hasn’t managed to Gutenbergsimulate the tactile and organic need that humans have for storing one’s historical records. Come the I.T. Armageddon, we will still have the Gutenberg Bible (Johannes, not Steve), the Dead Sea Scrolls and the complete works of Douglas Adams to pass along to our fore children. Oral histories became written histories when we realized that fire pits do more than cook food and cause our drunken brethren to sing bad campfire songs. It produces carbon in the form of charcoal. A tool used not only to camouflage the faces of warriors during prehistoric panty raids, but for scrawling graffiti on cave walls and on the tanned hides of woolly mammoths.

We are creative animals that flourish through our five senses (six if you include women who know when their husbands have been out seeing strippers). The internet has no smell. Oh, it is a festering pit of debauchery and depravity – just read any website written by members of the GOP – but it smells like nothing but the slow burn of carcinogenic biphenyls.

fasttimesPaper has a smell. It no longer smells like trees, of course, but it has a clean, chemical smell. Just ask the students in ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’ who started each day on a Gestetner Toner high. Old newspapers and magazines have smells too – musty, dusty, dank. To some it would be a turn off…to historians, it is the smell of the passage of time itself.


Similarly, old records. Vinyl has its own smell. Vinyl LP jackets have another smell entirely. Much of what nostalgia is built on comes from just that one sense unto itself. Visualization and the feel of these objects round out that sensory overload. And then there’s the music itself. Then the experience is complete. Just like a movie theatre with comfy seats, 3D glasses, AVX sound and buttered popcorn.

Magic markersThe paperless equivalent for music became the CD. Smaller, more portable and a lot less tactile. Nothing more exciting than cracking the bullet-proof shrink wrap with a set of hedge clippers on a new disc that filled your lungs with a wondrous new smell – polyunsaturated biphenyls and printers ink; The musical equivalent of snorting black magic markers. And if you were lucky, the lyrics were a whopping 8 point type on a thrice-folded sheet of 7.5″ x 4.5″ glossy paper.

And now? The packaging is gone and only the music remains. There’s no physical product to hold, to visualize, to sniff. And yet it’s even SMALLER than the LPs and the Vinyl cleanerCDs (WTF?).

There’s been push back. The computer industry told us paper was “so yesterday, dude” and yet here we are. Still excising forests; still recycling 400 years worth of pulp product. And so the music fan has done the same. Labels didn’t want to store the inventory, pay for the overhead of manufacturing, or savour the smell of black polyvinyl pellets and a hot 14″ Easy-Bake Oven. They wanted you to buy hardware and with it a lifetime supply of musical memories sans any of the things that made the music memorable.

Frampton Comes AliveHell, half the glory of the 12″ LP was the amount of weed one could properly separate using the centre of a gatefold sleeve – usually on a well-worn copy of Frampton Comes Alive. Or that aromatic chemical cesspool of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and stale sex in a damp rec room in your parent’s basement.

You can’t replace that part of music no matter how good the technology becomes. What we’ve learned in over 30 years of our Jetsons‘ wanna-be future is that we’re really good at making technology replace other technology. Everything we invent is obsolete upon Jetsons Flintstonesbirth. And each step gets us farther away – not from our original invention (which remains the king of its historical domain) – but from the thing that tried to simulate and replace it. In other words, we keep trying to better the thing that was the imitation of the progenitor object…like paper…like albums. We thought we were replacing paper – but instead we replaced the pen, and the typewriter.

We’ve come really close to replacing books – the advent of novels, et al on devices like KINDLE and Nook gives you a visual representation of reading (right down to faux page turning)…but when was the last time you turned off your digital reading device, Kindlecurled up into the folds of a couch and inhaled its spine as you enjoyed the satisfaction of reading the final paragraph and flipping the last page? Try that with a Kindle on your morning subway ride. Believe me, your fellow commuters would be Instagraming photos of you and there’d be a torrent of bad comments in response, a Buzzfeed parody and T-shirts with the caption “Kindle Me This, Batman”.

Frampton Comes Alive2When was the last time you read a good album cover? Or held one in your hands? To those who miss the nostalgia of their musical youth, I suggest going back to the source – and recreate the five senses of listening to music (maybe there’s some hash oil residue you can lick from the zipper of Frampton’s pants). And maybe even a sixth sense…where you instinctively know that an organic music experience has always been the perfect way to enjoy it. Better yet, share the experience with someone who has only ever heard music from a portable device while jogging.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA

=JV=

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON – ROCK, PAPER, SNIFFERS”

  1. Good points Jaimie, music does have more than just the sound. It has context, it has authorship, it has a history, an origin, it has antecedents, forbears, and uses (as you suggest, a tray table for the party). Some worry that too much is lost in the ether which we believe nervously we can reclaim anytime in the future. I wonder as do you…

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