What goes around comes around...
Sometimes when I sit down to write at my old Spanish beechwood and bamboo table, the words tumble out and arrange themselves in perfectly grouped, medium length sentences with a poetic cadence. Cypress treas along a French route nationale. I find I get to the point of the piece as quick as a slap from a woman you have held the door open for. Other times I find I start sentences (thoughts) that, once started, seem impossible to stop. A runaway car whose brakes have failed on the upramp of a two thousand mile motorway. When they finally ease to a halt, I try desperately to redress the tiresome nature of the prose by jabbing in a terse three or four-worder bordered by emphatic full stops. Just like that.
This is such a morning. Even the title, which I always start with, is longer than average. I should have known. I suggest you stop reading now and get a Nicaraguan Nespresso or a chamomile tea, use the bathroom, then take another look.
OK. Feeling good Red Riding Hood? Then I’ll begin. There are certain things in life you can rely on. For instance, if you are a creator of any kind – a writer, a film maker, a singer – and the critics adore your first novel, your directorial debut, your first album, then you can rely on a certainty that they will eviscerate your sophomore effort. Guaranteed. I learned this early on as a trainee engineer and arranger. From that moment on I never accepted a commission to produce anyone’s second record. No sir.
You can rely on the fact that, if a creator gets to the top in the flimsy end of pulp fiction, sensationalist movie making or pop, then disappears from view in a cloud of disreputable descent into despair, drugs and depression, then re-emerges decades later with a fragile, stripped down, ‘honest’ mature reflective performance, then the critics will hail this renaissance as their masterpiece. Guaranteed.
And you can rely on the fact that, if you catch a wave of fashion with a hairstyle, a cut of jeans, a style of coat and glasses, that style will pass and you will look more and more dated and out of step. But if you maintain that code long enough, then sure as a man never grows out of checking his bits through his pocket, that fashion zeitgeist will come back and you will once again find yourself where it’s at man.
This latter cut glass pure aspect of things we can rely on, is particularly unbreakable.
Let me spin these two yarns together. At any moment in time, when an innovation appears to disrupt the old order and change our behaviour forever, there will be pundits who trumpet the terminal decline of the old way, consign it to the dumper, and herald the new dawn as ‘that was then, this is now’.
They are always always wrong. It simply doesn’t happen. It’s a law. I am calling it Robin’s law. That law says that decline is a parabola, not a ramp. Sure, new things, new ways, new styles, will come along and push the old ways onto the margins. But the old ways will not disappear. They will bottom out, then they will find a new level, then they will start to regain strength. After the market place has largely abandoned them, savvy folks will notice that a lot of people still seem to really dig how it was before. And once a marketeer works out how to do it, the old way, the old style, will regain it’s ground, its importance – and yes – even its cool.
Let’s take a look at a 60 year example of this cycle: The cassette replaced the vinyl record. The CD replaced the cassette, the illegal download replaced the CD, the stream replaced the download. At each stage, the wise-asses trumpeted the death of the vinyl record, then the death of the cassette, then of the CD. Once streaming took hold, even the idea that artists should make albums was and still is scorned. ‘No no, you just don’t get it old timer. It’s all about single tracks now!’
Yeah right. Try telling that to every teenage fan who waits in line for the signed vinyl copy of the new album by their young idol. Try telling that to every young new artist who comes in through our doors, clutching a copy of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ or Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ saying ‘this is my favourite record, I want to work with whoever worked on this’. We get hundreds of enquiries a week from artists of all ages, all nationalities, all styles. We are still waiting for the first person to say ’I don’t want to make an album guys. Albums are toast.’
Cassette sales are booming, cassette decks, vinyl record players are being churned out in China and Korea [and they don’t usually mess up by being behind the curve]. Our business at Chrysalis relies on the physical special editions of our fifty year old catalogue, brilliantly curated and re-packaged by our team. It’s the bedrock of our company and of course the pleasure of holding, of smelling, of feeling a package is as vital and comforting as that teenager playing pocket billiards. Sure, physical sales aren’t what they were. But are they going to disappear? Are we planning to shut down the physical record department and replace it with a living wall? Not a bad idea. Researching, designing, manufacturing, shipping physical product is an expensive, time consuming pain in the arse, compared to uploading a stream. Forgive the analogy but that’s like comparing the whole palaver of flirting, getting to know, dating and finally sharing a bed with someone, compared with … er … upstreaming on your own! So are we shutting down? Not really. In fact we just added two new members to the team. The current lockdown means it’s hard to get CDs and records to the stores right now … hmm, maybe this means everyone will get used to streaming and not bother going back – like they will get used to having solo sex and not bother with the other complicated way.
One more example. I remember my first digital watch. Amazing! Six quid and it kept perfect time for thirty years. Illuminated digital display. This is a game changer. This is the end of the old clock face. Kids even stopped being taught to tell the time by looking at hands. Thing of the past. Yeah right. Tell me, readers young and old … do you wear a watch? Yes. Really? Why bother, you have a phone don’t you? That tells the time doesn’t it? Ah ok I understand yes, you need it for the pool, the beach, the bath. So presumably, now the technology has been around for fifty years and a digital watch still only costs six quid, it’s a glowing electronic baby? No? What, it’s an analog watch! With hands! And numerals! Did you inherit it from your grandmother? No, really, you can still buy them? Urban Outfitters? I thought that was a trendy young person’s store. ‘Oh Dad, where have you been? UO is not cool any more. It’s like Facebook. It’s dead. Like beards. They are so last year. Like petrol cars. They will all be electric in five years time. Laptops will be gone. As for desktops! Stone age or what.
‘Wow’. Well, maybe I’ll just hang on to my American petrol sports car just in case I might like to hear it and feel the thrum as well as get from A to B. Maybe I’ll just hang on to my laptop just in case there’s something I might want to watch on a screen bigger than the palm of my hand. I’ll hang on to my record deck, just in case I want to put on an album, ease the disc out of the sleeve, smell the vinyl, listen to the drop of the needle, the crackle of anticipation before the music starts, settle down with a coffee and the sleeve, examine the picture of my idol, read the liner notes while side one plays out, get up, flip the record over, drop the needle again and wait for the inevitable more adventurous mysteries of side two. Naah. Surely this is on the way out?
Of course, I’ve been blind for over thirty years, so by definition I’m blundering around in the dark with no idea what’s going on at all. Just as well really, I suppose. I’d probably not like the modern world, what with all the innovations that have taken over. Must be weird if you can see. A world without polaroid cameras, without books, without cinemas, without glasses, without wool clothing, without those old curvy stand-alone fridges, without bicycles – they’re all things of the past, all replaced by something else … and presumably gone?