Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It ain't like it once was

I did some Christmas shopping over this past weekend, with the little guy in tow which meant I had to be fairly efficient about it in order to be home for lunch and nap time, so I tried planning ahead and mapping out my route from store to store. I also did a smidgen of interwebs research before hitting the road, looking for some music suggestions for my step-mother, who was reluctant to volunteer many gift suggestions of her own (which is a rant for another time).

If I may back up a second (with what is, for once, a really relevant additional bit of info) the research was undertaken only after I had lamented the fact that there aren’t any dedicated music stores in the area, like Tower Records (or, as my wife aptly pointed out, Plan 9) which might serve as repositories of expertise in addition to being retail outlets. I would have been quite happy to have a live conversation with a complete stranger about what kinds of new but still underground acts a middle-aged longtime country fan might dig, since country is a genre I myself don’t even pretend to know the first thing about. But in the absence of such a readily-available resource, I fell back (of course) on some end-of-year Best Of lists that came up via Google. And then off I went.

First stop was Borders, because I had a very specific book in mind for my dad and figured I could also hit their CD section as well. First stop was also a total bust. The book in question was not in stock, which suggested to me that I might as well (again, with the two-year-old-meltdown clock ticking) get both father and step-mother some CDs and be done with it. I almost circumnavigated the store twice before I found the incredibly anemic music department, and yet I still walked down the stubby little aisle scanning the artist labels with a truly delusional optimism for a good half a minute before I realized there was an infinitesimal chance at best that the store would have the specific discs I was seeking. Little guy and I left empty-handed.

Next stop, the mall! My confidence was on the upswing at this point because I needed to get my sister a gift card for Aeropostale and I had previously confirmed that our local mall does, in fact, have one of those. Also, conveniently, the mall has a Wal-Mart attached to it and I planned to head there immediately upon securing said gift card. Which I did.

We needed a couple of grocery items (milk and the single-serving fruit cups the little guy half-lives on) and I knew Wal-Mart would be able to hook me up with those sundries at a minimum, but before I headed for the dairy case I decided it couldn’t hurt to take another stab at checking out an in-store music section. This turned out to be even more spectacularly unsuccessful than the effort at Borders, because as far as I was able to determine, Wal-Mart no longer sells CDs at all. Seriously. I found the electronics department and the rows of DVDs and video games and yet digital recordings of audio performances were not in evidence anywhere. So, out of luck again, I just grabbed my groceries and got the little guy home.

Despite the fact that I don’t keep up with the current music scene very well at all (and lament that fact fairly regularly) I of course can’t help but be aware of the stories that occasionally run in the newspaper or on the radio about how much trouble the recording industry is in. I admit, I always thought those stories must be a bit hyperbolic (as most audience-craving reportage is) because I’m pretty far from being an audiophile myself and yet I still buy a CD now and then and download songs from iTunes here and there. Sometimes I rip CDs to my computer library so I can load them on my iPod, and sometimes I’ll burn a bunch of iTunes tracks to a CD so I can take them in my non-MP3 supporting car or whatnot. My point being simply that it’s a multimedia age and somehow or another all the media would find their appropriate way to survive.

Oh, jukebox, I know I'll always love you because you're already obsolete
But now it looks like I’m always going to remember Christmas 2010 as the year that everything went right off the cliff. I don’t think it was just my bad luck that Tower closed up shop ages ago, or that Borders is barely trying to keep CDs in the store and Wal-Mart seems to have given up a while back. It’s starting to sink in that those news stories may have been onto something with their dire predictions, which is kind of a drag. Not for the recording industry per se (whose lawyers have sued little old ladies for hundreds of thousands of dollars when their grandkids illegally fileshare four songs – screw those guys) but for me (duh). Every year Christmas is a little more different from the way it was when I was growing up, and I roll with that the best I can, but it looks like physically shopping for music is going down into the same nostalgia-hole as many another tradition.

First post-script: I ended up ordering the CDs I wanted off of Amazon, which is probably where I should have started, but there’s something weird to me about ordering things, having them gift-wrapped and shipped directly to the recipients, and never holding the physical object in my own hands. It barely feels like gift-giving.

Second post-script: I’m pretty sure the last time I bought myself a CD at a store it was a Best Buy. Maybe if I had had unlimited time to drive around on Sunday I would have ended up there eventually. Now I’m kind of morbidly curious to head there anyway even though I’m technically done shopping.

Third post-script: I know this post has a shameful number of corporations included by name, but I’m not exactly shilling for them and I just wanted to root everything in the sense of how safe I thought I was betting on at least one of these incredibly mainstream retail conglomerates having something approaching what I was looking for available for sale. If I had hedged around names with cute evasions like “a certain nationwide big box store” I don’t think it would have made the same point, not to mention it would have been annoying for all of us.

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