Hello again, Bollocks! readers. Thanks for the kind thoughts during my little hiatus there. Especially to Simon from Australia – I’ll email you back soon, I promise. But I had no fucking idea people in Australia read this blog and I’m pretty stoked about that. So if you’re in Australia, reading this right now, I raise my glass to ya.
While I was away, it would appear that Mr. Jon Bon Jovi managed to embroil himself in a minor controversy, which – let’s face it – is probably about the only kind of controversy Bon Jovi can really handle. The point of contention seems to be that Jon Bon Jovi believes that Apple’s Steve Jobs “is personally responsible for killing the music business.” I choose to believe that most thinking people would agree that this is bullshit and I’m not sure where to start disagreeing with Bon Jovi.
But I’ll try.
For starters, Mr. BJ (as his friends call him, for reasons unavailable to me at time of writing) assumes that music fans care about the music “business.” It might seem intuitive to believe that fans would want their favorite bands to make a decent living creating music and would therefore, at least implicitly, support the music business. But Bon Jovi is failing to consider the possibility that consumers – even Bon Jovi fans – are just trying to consume music by the easiest, cheapest means possible (to be fair, others before Jon Bon Jovi have made this assumption too). Like locusts, they will consume all of the music they want and if a band or label goes bankrupt, they’ll just find different music to consume. In other words, many music fans probably care about music first and might not think much at all about the business side of it. We can debate the finer points of that until we’re blue in the face, but I have a hard time arguing for the survival of an industry that has made Gene Simmons a rich man.
The thing that struck me as the most hilariously misguided about Bon Jovi’s anti-Jobs rant though, was his assertion that “Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, and getting lost in an album. And the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on a jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it.” I can’t help but think that, by his own metric, Jon Bon Jovi has probably purchased some really shitty albums. Buying an album because the cover is cool seems like you’re not doing much in the way of due diligence before investing your hard-earned (or, in the case of allowance money, “easily parentally bestowed”) money.
Judging an album by its cover can occasionally yield positive results – if you’re buying Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone or the Clash’s London Calling. But an uncool cover doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in for an uncool album. The Beatles’ White Album has an incredibly boring cover. Still one of my favorite albums. And does Jon Bon Jovi really believe that someone purchased his band’s New Jersey record because of the fucking cover? Love that album or hate it (I choose the latter, thanks), that cover doesn’t do much to compel one to purchase it.
Technology, like it or not (although you must like it at least a little if you’re on the internet reading a blog), has made it easier for people to know what they’re buying when it comes to music. That’s a good thing, assuming you make good music. It’s amazing to me that some of these “artists” who bemoan the death of the album (claiming that iTunes has made it too easy to just buy the few songs you like on a record) have made no attempt to remedy this situation by making albums full of songs people will like. Perhaps against type (since I’m part of the generation of “kids” to whom Mr. BJ refers), I still buy albums. I like having the physical CDs and album art in my hands. I buy albums from all kinds of genres and all types of labels, indie and major alike. This isn’t motivated by some sense of hipster cool; my priority is to experience great music and the common denominator among the albums I’ve purchased is that I like all (or most) of the songs on them. The Hold Steady doesn’t have to worry about me going to iTunes and buying individual tracks from their records because they’ve had the foresight to record an album’s worth of material that I’m inclined to love. Maybe it’s easier for the Hold Steady to do that than it is for Bon Jovi, but that has nothing to do with Steve Jobs.
Even if you want to argue that Bon Jovi should be mad at Napster inventor Shawn Fanning instead of Jobs, the fact remains that digital distribution of music, legal or otherwise, is not going away anytime soon. And I’m more inclined to believe that the music business’s failure to adapt to the times is far more responsible for its death than a guy who just wants to make billions of dollars giving people convenient ways to hear music and laptops upon which they can make it themselves.
I’d like to believe that Jon Bon Jovi’s motives are pure in criticizing Apple’s contribution to music consumption. I’d love to believe that he really is concerned that the kids these days are missing out on some valuable music-listening experience, but it’s a little hard to believe that, especially since the bottom line is that artists might not make a whole lot more from iTunes downloads than they do from CD sales (they might make a little less, depending on the label’s take). That fact suggests that the ability to know what is on an album before you buy it does not inhibit in any way your ability to “get lost” in it. I think if just one person can still get lost in an album that they’ve previewed online, that would prove Bon Jovi’s full of shit, don’t you?
And I think I am that person.
I listened to LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening for free on their website, before it came out (James Murphy, what were you thinking? Don’t you know that you’re depriving me of a vital life experience by allowing me to know what my money is buying before I spend it?). Then I purchased the CD, took it home, and proceeded to get lost in it just fine. In fact, I still get lost in that album because it’s a good fucking album. If you buy an album because you like the jacket, you’re still gonna have a hard time getting lost in it if the music sucks. (“Help! I’m lost is this shitty record and I can’t find my way out! The music is so bad that I’ve become disoriented. I should’ve never started listening to this album without my flare gun!”)
The way we get music (and the way it’s made, for that matter) is definitely changing and you can decide for yourself whether or not that’s good or bad. David Byrne wrote an excellent article on this topic for Wired back in 2007. Jon Bon Jovi seems to have made up his mind on the issue and that’s his right, but I’d been keenly interested to go over his record collection with him and find out which ones he bought based solely on the album art. Because I bet there’s some really awful stuff in there.