By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger might be fans of vinyl records, or at least sworn adversaries of the compact disc (CD). With that introduction…
The CD dealt a serious blow to human civilization. An overstatement? Probably. Completely false? Absolutely not. Its sin? The CD, that sleek invention from the depths of the place where dark souls are said to reside, made real-time music surfing possible and, in the process, forever disfigured how we listen to music.
Prior to the disc, music resided on cassettes, 8-tracks and vinyl records, formats that forced more a deliberate, patient listen. If you wanted to jump around to hit songs, you could, but it involved toggling between four often disjointed programs (8-tracks), an inexact fast-forward or rewind (cassettes) or getting up off the couch and manipulating the needle (records).
The “consequence”, as I’ll sarcastically call it, was that the listener tended to experience the entire album. What a concept! Recognizing the inconvenience of pre-CD media, hit songs were often placed at the beginning of a side, prime territory for a quick find or replay; I appreciated artists that didn’t follow the marketer’s script, the ones that slotted their singles in awkward places, thereby ensuring total album consumption and creating an opportunity to discover hidden gems. I’m tipping my cap to Kix, the Maryland-based band, who placed the song The Itch at the end of side one of their debut album and the Rolling Stones for tucking Tumbling Dice at the end of the first Exile on Main Street record.
And then there were the artists who buried great songs in inauspicious places, little rewards of sorts for dedicated listeners. “Rocket Queen”, the last song on Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses is incredible. Prince put the fabulously raunchy “Darling Nikki” last on side one of Purple Rain. Bob Dylan’s ended his iconic Highway 61 Revisited album with the absolutely amazing “Desolation Row”.
If the CD didn’t completely kill such album experiences, the MP3 and digital media seem certain to choke out its last breaths of life. The single rules now: three minutes of overproduced, hyper-marketed sound from computers and bedazzled pop stars that can be downloaded for instant satisfaction and played until it promotes nausea. Who has the patience to spin a record?
The aforementioned Rodgers, age 30, isn’t old enough to remember cassettes, but he has cracked back on society’s impatience. In response to early-season criticism, Rodgers, one of the coolest and best quarterbacks in the NFL, spelled out a five-letter retort to irritated Packers fans: R-E-L-A-X. The Packers have done just fine since. The agitation isn’t confined to the land of cheese. A few weeks ago, New England and Pittsburgh were struggling. Brady and Roethlisberger, despite their five Super Bowl titles, allegedly couldn’t play anymore. Patriots coach Bill Belichick had lost his hoodie-fueled brilliance; Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was on the hot seat. Well, since the gripes reached a crescendo, no team has been hotter than the Patriots and Roethlisberger tossed six touchdown passes in consecutive games. Premature panic? You think?
The death of the album and quick criticism of the NFL’s best quarterbacks is bothersome, but its root cause – pervasive impatience and an intolerance of any frustration or discomfort – has significant reach. We have to have it all – hit songs or wins on Sunday – right now. The grass elsewhere is assumed to be greener the minute the blades under our feet discolor. The bird in the hand, despite its accomplishments, is obsessively critiqued while the unknown two in the bush are romanticized. Shortcomings and bad moments create labels that cannot be removed. No one – not even Super Bowl winning quarterbacks – are permitted the latitude to fail, to grow and to overcome. To heck with the process, the journey, evolution or the opportunity to reveal something – a character trait, a team quality or a great song – that’s not immediately apparent.
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