By Terri Hendrix
(LSM Jan/Feb 2013/vol. 6 – Issue 1)
Love, love me do, you know I love you …,” I quietly sang along with the Beatles. The little cassette player was barely loud enough to hear the music, but crackled just enough sound to keep me happy without giving away my hiding place. When one hand got tired of holding the player to my ear, I’d carefully switch it to the other hand. It was a balancing act for sure, as any wrong move on my part would send me plummeting from my perch high up in the branches of the sycamore tree to its perfectly mulched base in our front yard. I was almost a teenager. Almost a woman. Almost someone who fit in. And almost always in trouble at home. Which is why I spent most of my time up in trees listening to music — with the disapproving eyes of my parents far below.
One day, I grew too big for the trees to provide me the refuge they once had. It took me losing my footing, landing flat on my back, and feeling the wind leave my lungs in a painful yelp to reach this conclusion. But even though I no longer had the ability to climb up and out of view, I still had my music.
As pimples bloomed across my cheeks and Pat Benetar screamed “Hell! Hell is for children!,” I could relate. The lyrics bounced off my tongue as I jockeyed around high school with a persistent rash around my nostrils. It didn’t help my cowering self esteem either that I had braces coupled with headgear designed to yank teeth into a straight row that seemed just as hell-bent on staying put. I could also relate to Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.” We were by no means poor, but for each year I grew taller, my mother added an additional length to the bottom hem of my jeans until they seemed like just a blue-jean crotch with a hodgepodge of fabric for pant legs.
Dolly Parton was just one of my many “favorite” artists at the time. For it seemed like my musical tastes changed as fast as the colors of my mood ring. I even forayed into classical music upon entering choir. And though the music had long since been stamped “classical,” I never thought about it fitting into a genre of its own. As far as I was concerned, all music was escapism and my ears devoured whatever I chose to pilot me away from troubles — real or imagined — at the time. To me, Bach was just as much of a rock ’n’ roller as Pat Benetar and they found a home right along side one another — just like Barbra Streisand’s Broadway Album fit perfect next to Supertramp’s Breakfast in America. I soon settled into a system where I just organized everything in my collection alphabetically by the name of the band or last name of the artist.
As my music collection (records, cassettes, and 8 tracks) grew, so did my appreciation of the guitar my father had taught me to play. I experimented with chords and began to write songs, too — in every single genre. As natural as breathing, listening to music and writing songs evolved into a compass in my life I’d follow until my muse would inevitably take root as my livelihood. And a livelihood it became. And what a journey it’s been, for over 20 years now. Because I couldn’t stick to a genre and knew I never would, I began releasing my own music independently, on my own record label, in 1996.
And to this day, I’m still as crazy about collecting music as I was in my youth. Both my record player and my cassette player died at about the same time, so I was among the first of my friends to upgrade my stereo system with a CD player. One of the first CDs I purchased was Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. I bought it on cassette, too, so I could play it in my yellow VW Bug. I then saved for another record player and cassette deck, ensuring I’d have the right stereo equipment to play my music regardless of its format. I even bought a boom box, because it came with a double cassette player. I still have it and I still use it.
Even though I collected cassette decks, when I was given the option of printing cassettes for my 1998 release, Wilory Farm, I said, “No, I only want to manufacture CDs.” Having been such an avid consumer of music over the years, I knew firsthand that CD players were much easier to play music on than cassette decks. And CDs didn’t come unwound in my purse — like tapes did.
Fast forward both my collection and music career 15 years to the present, and CD players are now on the chopping block, too. Downloading music onto personal computers (and phones and tablets) has taken their place. And yes, I’ve begun to buy and hoard CD players because the bulk of my music collection is comprised of CDs. But even though my friends in the hi-fi world swore that the digital format meant inferior sound quality, I immediately jumped onboard the whole legal download craze. A matter of fact, I’ve needed a 12-step program tailored for music buyers ever since I downloaded my first song. Having any song at my fingertips available for purchase online has proved just as breathtaking as when I fell out of that tree in my youth. My only complaint is, I’d like to be able to do updates on my computer without the hi-fi paws of the Internet touching the music collection I house on my hard drive.
Though painstakingly organizing my music collection the way I used to in my music room has proven more difficult on my computer, downloading music has continued to be a hobby of mine. But I never could have guessed that the very format I still whole-heartedly embrace would one day threaten my ability to do what I love — which is making and distributing my own music. I’m not threatened that some folks prefer to stream their albums online instead of outright owning them. I’m just having a hard time comprehending the opinion that the consumption of music — live or recorded — should just be free. Swap a hard drive, bump a phone, get your music — and don’t pay a dime for it. But hey, “Margs at Chimy’s in San Marcos are four bucks a piece for happy hour until 7 p.m.!” Oh, I digress.
Regardless, if the “future” is one in which all music becomes a free commodity and independent artists are no longer able to make money off their songs, who will pay the musicians that play on albums? Who will pay the songwriters? If music is free, what’s gonna happen to do-it-yourselfers like me?
I’ve got this painting of a monkey in a suit hanging on a wall. At the bottom of the painting it reads, “I’m like that manicured poodle trying to pretend to be something else.” And each time I attend a music conference where free music is championed by industry insiders, I feel like that monkey in a suit. I disagree — and therefore, I don’t belong.
“Waaaaaaaaaa!” Terry Allen screams in his song, “The Collector (and the Art Mob).” And that’s exactly how I feel about people that are into music for the scene and not — to borrow a lyric from Townes Van Zandt — “for the sake of the song.” The fact is, these days, some will feel the need to support the sanctity of music — buying it because they love it and have to own it — and some won’t.
Me? I can’t judge the next generation of music fans just because I don’t understand where or how they’re gonna get their music. I’m just a genre-hopping, lo-fi folkie trying to make a living in a blog-happy, trending hi-fi world. Perhaps I’m trapped in a time warp, longing for a simpler time — like the ’80s, perhaps, when music was still valued so much, MTV actually aired videos instead of just half-naked spring breakers (all crotch, no pant leg). Or perhaps I’m just a middle-aged “hoarder,” clinging to stereo components and my music collection as if they were keystones to my sanity.
All I know for sure is that tonight, I’ve gotta figure out where to file that album that Michael O’Connor and Adam Carroll collaborated on together, Hard Times. Should the CD be with the “O’s” or the “C’s?” They’re both brilliant songwriters, so I have every other CD both of them have ever made. So who gets their duo album in their own section? I know … I’ll just have to buy two copies.