I wanted to quote something from the now sadly defunct-seeming Pre-Durst, and was reminded of this very excellent entry, for Sonic Youth's "Bull in the Heather":
OK I know I’m going to sound completely old and insufferable but bear with me, cause this is how it used to work. First you’d hear the song like once, or maybe somebody would just describe the song to you, which was almost better, because then you’d hear all the things it could sound like, and the possibility of how good it could be would make you more excited than if you’d heard something legitimately great.
So you’d be driven completely insane with your need to hear it, and to hear it you had to buy it, because the internet looked like a MySQL dump and it was faster to throw a Polaroid into a slow-moving river than to email your friend a cat macro. Naturally, then, you’d have to beg your parents for money to buy the record, which is something I honestly cannot recall doing even once, but which I must have done, judging by how many Smashing Pumpkins EPs I own, far too fucking often. (The day my mom realizes how bad “French Movie Theme” is will be the day she tells me I owe her $12.)
Then you’d have to follow that beg up with a double-beg, because you’d need a ride to a record store, and — well, if you were like me, which is clearly what this awkward second-person construction is all about — the only good record store near you was a full 45 minutes away. What this meant to your parents was, of course, a thankless hour and a half in the car with some too-loud kids in their own universe, with a “reading in the car” layover while you yourself tore ass around the store, digging for familiar names and praying for a good find. Sometimes that part itself took hours. At this point your parents might have made you barter for chores.
But finally, finally, after the interminable car ride home, you get this CD back to your house, and whether alone or with friends, you finally tear off the plastic and finally put it in your blown-out little boom box, maybe having waited weeks to finally hear this song, hear this song you’ve only had described to you, that you begged, borrowed and stole to get to, and then: it starts. It starts and it sounds like this.
“Once the music leaves your head, it’s already compromised.”
It's just about impossible to believe in this age of ours, but it used to be the case that the acquisition of culture was an intensely verbal affair. Whether you bought someone's record, or spent months trying to track it down, was entirely a feature of whether someone could make it sound incredibly interesting. The result of all this was a certain numinous feeling about the world, not unlike the way W.H. Auden used to feel about the mining machines he loved as a child.
For a long time, you would only have a name: Gang of Four. Sleater-Kinney. The Smiths. You'd have a recommendation, since that's the way taste used to be transmitted. An artist you already liked or a reviewer you trusted would make an offhand reference to something, and if the reference was interesting enough, it'd go on one of the endless lists you might make about the albums you would buy. You might know the name of a song: about a year lapsed between my first hearing the song title "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" and first hearing the actual song. The words mattered quite a bit, as well. What was Pink Flag? Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space? Kick Out the Jams?
Nowadays, all the information you want is out there immediately. The closest I've come to one of my old experiences in a long time involved the XX. I had been up late, writing or editing, and turned the TV on, catching Carson Daly (remember when he was the enemy?) introducing the first television appearance of this band. They played slow, spare songs, and had little interest in their audience; in spite of all this, they were compelling. Then, a few days later, they were profiled by Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker. Now I will wait and think for a long time before I decide whether to buy their album or not. Except, of course, that the whole thing's on youtube, so I have no reason to deny myself.
Because when your resources are limited, you have to be very careful of every move you make; when nothing requires effort, it is that much harder to integrate into the story of your life.