The Way the Music Died, by Elayne Riggs

Elayne Riggs

Elayne Riggs is the creator of the popular blog Pen-Elayne on the Web. She was a founding member of Friends of Lulu, an organization dedicated to increasing the involvement of girls and women in comics, as readers and creators. She is married to inker Robin Riggs, with whom she shares two cats, and has odd love/hate relationship with Hillary Clinton.

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3 Responses

  1. Russ Rogers says:

    You are right. CDs were forced onto the buying public for several reasons. One was spoilage. Records can scratch and warp n shipping and tapes degenerate from temperature changes or just prolonged storage. CDs are much easier to maintain quality control, easier to ship and smaller to store. PLUS, record companies could charge MORE for CDs even after production costs made them cheaper to manufacture than either tapes or vinyl! And people were willing to re-buy large portions of their music libraries to have them in the new and more convenient format. This brought on a boom time for Recording Companies. Flash forward twenty years. The new format is mp3s. The new player is iPod, which sells something like 70% of the personal digital music players in the world! Why? It's a great product and iTunes is a simple, intuitive program with a simple, easy to navigate and well run store.The problem is, we don't have to pay to convert our CDs to this NEW format. The CDs practically convert themselves. This means that CDs aren't used as much as the music medium we listen to, they are just another method of transporting the data to our computers and iPods. It's all digital. And music companies aren't seeing as much financial gain from shifting formats.Then there is the question of PIRACY and free distribution. File sharing is a problem and not just for the record companies and artists. It's not just that revenue streams have become chaotic. But we VALUE what we pay for. So much music is given away for free by artists on MySpace and the like or shared (i.e. "stolen") between friends that I fear music doesn't MEAN as much to us anymore.Remember when the pulse beat of society was determined by what was going on in music? The protest music of the 60s and early 70s meant something. Just this morning, I heard a cable news show use "What's Goin' On," by Marvin Gaye as bumper music, going to commercial, coming out of a segment where the war in Iraq was being discussed. My first thought was, "That's cool." My next thought was, "Where is the music of today about the war?"Name the music artists that matter today, that make a difference. Name the ones that are actually SAYING something, something current and something profound. I can name a few. I think The Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice," was a profound, political and timely statement. I think Green Day's "American Idiot" is important. I think Matchbox Twenty's recent hit, "How Far We've Come," is trying to say something more than most pop. U2 and Bruce Springsteen are still making important statements, but are they dinosaurs now? Frankly, none of the artists I named are less than five years on the scene. Most are ten to thirty years. It's not that important music isn't getting made, but it's not getting the attention it deserves and it's not resonating in our lives and changing our culture. For a brief, shining moment Rap Music and Hip Hop were vital and important. Remember NWA? Remember songs with a message? Remember loving or hating Eminem and thinking that "Stan" meant something?What do we have now? "Soulja Boy Tell 'Em" with "Crank That." My daughters LOVE that song! I defy you to tell me what it's about. As far as I can tell Soulja Boy is mostly calling out choreography. Iit's about as deep as "The Hokey Pokey." Rihanna is telling me to come under her umbrella-ella-ella and just shut up and drive. I'm not against pop music. I LOVE bubblegum pop! Rihanna is some fine pop. But I also want some depth. Even "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," had more depth.I have TWO theories about why music has lost much of it's meaning and visceral connection in our lives. And I think this has a direct connection with ComicMix! First, music is SO cheap and easily shared that we don't VALUE it as much. Second, music has become less of a PHYSICAL reality. It's all digital. It's all platonic and conceptual and ephemeral. We don't HOLD the records in our hands. We don't lovingly blow the dust out of the grooves. We can't hold the album cover and read the lyrics sheets printed on the dust sleeve while listening to the music. Music is just an aural pleasure, in one ear and out the other. We don't hold the TALISMANS of music in our hands and pull them to our hearts. There is a reason Catholics hold a rosary while reciting prayers. The beads give PHYSICALITY to the words. The small cross is a physical reminder that Christians believe that GOD (and that is an ethereal concept if there ever was one) became FLESH and dwelt among us. There is power in being able to TOUCH something. There is power in the belief that God can and has taken PHYSICAL form. But I'm off the subject.ComicMix is a very cool site. There are free comics here. And it has a simple, intuitive reader. I can see digital comics starting a revolution in comics publishing and I can imagine ComicMix leading the way!Here's the problem. We value what we pay for and we NEED to have some PHYSICAL connection with what ultimately makes a resounding emotional impact. We need to feel like we have a sense of OWNERSHIP in order to feel a sense of value and make an emotional connection. We can own things we don't touch, but it's hard to FEEL that in your gut. We want to touch and hoard and love our STUFF!It's like the difference between how we spend with CASH or CREDIT CARDS. Scrooge McDuck never swam in a pile of credit cards.There is one thing that ComicMix has going for it, as far as imparting a sense of ownership and emotional investment. It's interactive. I've always thought that one of the major elements that set comics apart from other entertainment media was the letters page. This was a direct, interactive element, where fans could not only express opinions, but often see their ideas shape the course of the story! This fan interaction continues even more directly and immediately at conventions. Star Trek fans feel a sense of ownership and emotional investment in the franchise, in part, because they have made being a Star Trek fan more and more interactive. Maybe this goes all the way back to the letter writing campaign that saved the third season.I have made comments on essays, articles and comics here on ComicMix and gotten near instantaneous responses from other fans, writers, editors and artists. In some cases these are people whose work I've read and loved for decades! Some have said, "Russ, you're full of shit" (usually not in so many words), but I appreciate even those opinions. And it's not just flattering that MY opinions are valued. ComicMix has all the benefits of a letters page, with the immediacy of a continuous convention. It's given me an emotional investment in ComicMix and in the comics here that I might not have if the stories were just books. Thank you.

  2. Elayne Riggs says:

    Wow, and thank YOU for such a long, well-thought-out comment, Russ! I agree with you a lot about physicality, and I know ComicMix is planning to amass physical collections of the comics we debut here once a certain page count is reached. And yes, a quarter century or so after CDs have become established it's easy to see their convenience, but the fact remains that it was not allowed to be a consumer choice in the first place, and I wish the producers had just had more faith in the buying public to make the decision for themselves. Meanwhile, I eagerly await Elvis Costello's new album, which I understand will be a vinyl-only release.

    • Russ Rogers says:

      I'm a HUGE Elvis Costello fan! It's funny, several years ago I was trying to explain to my brother-in-law about how cool the iPod is. He was skeptical, a bit of a Ludite. He kept saying, "Why would I want all my music walking around with me in my pocket? I can't listen to more than one tape's worth of music when I go jogging. A walkman is just fine for me."Then, to change the subject he said, "Have you heard the new Elvis Costello album?""Yeah," I said, "Do you want to hear it?""Do you have the CD out in the car?""No," I replied, "it's on my iPod, in my pocket!"I pulled it out and popped up "The Delivery Man."His jaw dropped. "How did you do that?"I said, "That's what I've been trying to tell you! It's not a question of being able to listen to all of it. But I can pull up practically ANYTHING in my music collection, anything I want to listen to, any time, any place."You are right, Elvis Costello's new album, "Momofuku," is only available initially on vinyl, but seems to think it's coming out on CD, May 6. I can wait. I read that he's opening for the Police. Now THAT would be a cool concert!