Pop Stuff: In A Flash
As we place a premium on whittling our books and records into the smallest space, our greatest cultural signifiers live on iTunes folders, Kindles and flash drives.
The earliest memory I have of my parents is not a counterfeit forged of constant retelling; Nina Simone stood witness, her voice at least. When I was old enough to make a dash but not yet a brat, let’s call it four, I would charge into my parents’ room, holding my breath by the door, suddenly reluctant to disrupt the scene. On weekend afternoons, they would be unwinding to music that drifted from a record player which claimed center stage on the teak turntable of an ochre toned bedroom. The notes hung for a second, waiting for acknowledgement, before floating out onto the breezy haze over the Mumbai Sea Face.
Life rarely presents us with fairytale endings. My parents split up when I was in college and years later on a trip back home from New York, chiding my mother about a pile of National Geographic relics she had stored away, I found a treasure trove of Vinyl. Hundreds of records lay neatly stacked, wrapped in plastic bags, saved from trips abroad, in a time of infrequent travel. I had just given my mother her first iPod and packed it with her favorites, the soundtrack of the 60s and 70s condensed into a dairy milk sized bar, so she was unfazed by me lugging a dusty record collection over the Atlantic.
Back in New York as I marveled over sleeves; the iconic image of Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ did the title justice transcending time and space to conjure my childhood. Each record; The Beatles’ walking across ‘Abbey Road’, Ziggy Stardust in his ‘Rise and Fall’ and of course Nina, called forth memories. Moreover, I discovered a secret history in the music my parents had shared. In stamped initials and scrawled notes lay the tastes of two people, the evolution of a relationship and a romance that had nothing to do with me.
Our current relationship to music and literature is detached in comparison. It feels jarring, as though The Future plucked the needle off the player. We are dispensing with shelves for books and records, those totemic items that say so much about what moves us. As we place a premium on whittling everything into the smallest space, our greatest cultural signifiers live on iTunes folders, Kindles and flash drives. The question of exploring histories, secret or not, becomes moot, or at best clinical, when browsing someone’s library requires the password to their device.
We’re hurtling towards a future in which it’s hard to imagine that we’ll get to know our parents through their record collections or be handed down fondly worn novels, the scribbles in the margins unwitting harbingers of someone turning the pages in another era. If I have children will they know that I listened to Leonard Cohen in moments of reflection and devoured Drake, TI, Fetty Wap and Kendrick Lamar in my Trap Rap obsession? Or will I need to ask them to follow me on Spotify to ensure my musical inclinations are passed down along with my genes?
The DNA of memories and tastes is imparted in amorphous ways. While we revel in the space gained from moving a clunky record collection into a few nifty gigabytes in The Cloud, increasingly an emotion stripped mirror of our brains, we risk losing something essential of ourselves. So, as our machines swallow our libraries, it’s worth reconsidering what we are really giving up. And whether we want to hang on to that collection, so years later someone can rediscover the music and let the memories flash by.
The author is a former hedge fund manager-turned-film producer and magazine writer. Twitter: @whats_cutting