The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'sixeventies'
The British supermarket chain Sainsbury's is doubling up on the fashion for vinyl records. For a while, they (alongside their rival Tesco) have been selling a small selection of classic albums, repressed on 180 gram luxury vinyl, to shoppers who want to own a slice of pop-cultural history in its most authentic format, and to be at one with Led Zeppelin or Amy Winehouse or whoever in a way that those listening to the iTunes download can never be. And to think: all this at your local supermarket. And now, they're launching their own brand of vinyl-only compilation albums. Named Sainsbury's Own Label, the records, overseen by pop historian and Saint Etienne member Bob Stanley, will contain classic vintage tracks, and come enclosed in retro-styled monochromatic sleeves, for that extra dose of supermarket-fresh vintage authenticity. Two albums have been announced: Coming Into Los Angeles, which features Californian rock from the sixeventies such as Fleetwood Mac and The Monkees, and Hi Fidelity, which leans slightly (but never excessively) prog, with the likes of Mike Oldfield, 10CC and Roxy Music, and sounds like just the thing for putting that expensively restored vintage hi-fi system through its paces.
Which is an interesting business decision (and it's good that Bob Stanley is getting paid for his expertise), though I'm not sure it makes that much sense. From what I understand, the fashion for vinyl is less about its function as a sound carrier than its role as an ark of Authenticity, a token of connection to a legendary album, artist or era. Surveys back this up, showing that almost half of all vinyl bought is never played, and instead purchased to have something to keep whilst listening to a streaming service. In other words, a vinyl record is primarily a 12" collectible poster, representing the body of music one enjoys listening to or the artist one admires; that it contains a legacy sound carrier adds gravitas to the mystique, but is secondary. And as a sound carrier, vinyl records leave a lot to be desired; other than the bulk and the fiddly nature of putting a record on, as compared to queueing up a track on Spotify or YouTube, the sound quality of vinyl is objectively, measurably inferior to digital sound in a number of ways. Some of those shortcomings (the surface noise, the “warm” frequency distortion) can, to those who grew up with them, induce warm feelings of nostalgia, but that does not make vinyl's fidelity superior, as some of its champions are wont to claim, except, of course, at producing a characteristically vinyl-like experience. To claim that the experience of recorded music with the surface noise, distortion and constricted dynamic range and frequency response of vinyl is “better” or more “authentic” is a claim of subjective faith. (And then, there is the fact that the PVC that vinyl records are made of is pretty toxic stuff, impossible to recycle, and slowly emitting toxic particles as they age.)
It seems that what Sainsbury's are trying to do with Own Label is effectively sell the equivalent of Spotify playlists of “Classic Tracks”, only pressed to a stylish-looking vinyl record. Fair play that they slapped some modishly retro-modernist artwork on the cover, but it really does seem like the worst of both worlds: none of the collectibility of vinyl albums (except perhaps to a handful of people who fetishise commercial ephemera, and wish to get a head start on tomorrow's) and less convenient than listening to it on a computer or phone or digital system. Good luck to them, but I suspect this might not be a runaway success story.
In recent social psychology news, a team of US researchers has debunked the myth of the Baby Boomers' strong work ethic:
The economic success of the United States and Europe around the turn of the 20th to the 21st century is often ascribed to the so-called Protestant work ethic of members of the baby boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964. They are said to place work central in their lives, to avoid wasting time and to be ethical in their dealings with others. Their work ethic is also associated with greater job satisfaction and performance, conscientiousness, greater commitment to the organization they belong to and little time for social loafing.Hang on, I hear you say: the stereotypical Baby Boomer work ethic? The generation born between 1946 and 1964, that of Beatlemania and Woodstock, long hair, Free Love, anti-Vietnam-War protests and recreational drug use (and, at its younger end, shading into the fuck-the-system nihilism of punk), being associated specifically with duty, discipline and delayed gratification? That can't be so. Perhaps whoever came up with that idea skipped a decade or two, and was instead thinking of a slightly earlier cohort; perhaps their older half-siblings, the neatly groomed beige-suited Eddie Haskells who addressed their parents as “sir” and “ma'am”, or even the “Greatest Generation” who sacrificed everything in World War 2, only to watch their kids grow their hair, listen to that godawful racket, and generally not exemplify a particularly strong work ethic.
The other possibility is, of course, that the stereotype of the “Baby Boomer work ethic” is not so much about the Woodstock generation but about old people. Which is to say, that it reflects survivor bias; the likelihood that the ones left standing into advanced age either had their shit together from the outset or got it together. Presumably, of the generation that came of age in the heady Sixeventies, some will have fallen by the wayside (and, of course, Reaganism, AIDS and punk rock were just around the corner), some will have grown up and gotten with the programme (this was in the day before emoji and executive hoodies, when adulthood was a one-way transformation into a stolid mortgage-paying lump of joyless responsibility), and some, seeing that they had survived and succeeded, would have rationalised that they had been hard-working and responsible (and, thus, deserving of their success) all along. Which, of course, vacated the space of feckless irresponsibility for the younger generation, to whom it always belongs.
Of course, what this means is that, in some 20 years' time, we can look forward to a paper debunking the widely held stereotype that Generation X—the one most recently associated with MTV, “alternative rock”, Nintendo and the “slacker” stereotype—are inherently more moral, virtuous and upstanding than their shabby, feckless descendants. And then, eventually, it will be the millennials, the generation of selfies, Taylor Swift and crushing debt. And, in turn, every generation will, shortly before its death, briefly be the Greatest Generation standing.