The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You
I was riding shotgun as my wife drove us home from grandma’s house when we passed a Best Buy. I looked at the store, giant in scope and lit up like an Alaskan winter. I remembered that as a teenage boy I’d make up reasons to head there the same way that Dad’s make up reasons to spend Saturday afternoons at Home Depot. I’d walk in, scan CDs and movies and home theater systems and video games and laptops and cameras and video recorders, and usually leave spending the $15 in cash that I walked in with on some album Rolling Stone told me I needed to have. Not that there was anything wrong with that. In fact, that’s exactly how I came to love my favorite band, Wilco.
They were plastered right there on the cover of the magazine. “Would this album, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, propel them to fame and fortune?” Rolling Stone asked. The article convinced me. I immediately hopped in my Jeep and made the purchase. The whole way home I drove questioning and confused. Really? This album was it? This was the best that 2002 had to offer? I didn’t get it. The same way I didn’t get that the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album always made editor’s top 5 all-time lists. So I did something novel. I listened to it again. And even more novel…one more time. Eventually, that music began to seep its way into my pores. I began to convince myself. Every time I put that disc into a player, I grew more and more into the music. It became deeper and deeper, a part of me. While passing Best Buy with my wife, I realized that that whole process just doesn’t happen anymore…and you know what? That’s a shame.
Just recently the Avett Brothers released their highly anticipated, critically acclaimed new album, I and Love and You. Just like Wilco’s work before, it was going to be one of the best of the year…sure to please. Even more exciting for me, I was going to get to see this band, one of the best live performances you’ll ever see, in concert in my home town. I was making promises and commitments to everyone I knew that I would surely be making the trek to Best Buy. This was not an iTunes purchase, and it certainly wasn’t a rip-from-the-internet kind of album. This would be one I had to be able to physically hold in my hand. To play in my car and my home stereo. Then something happened.
NPR released a full-length stream of the album. My partner-in-crime and I listened to in around the office. The title track came on. It was good, but I already knew that. It’d made the rounds on all the music blogs and the video had already hit YouTube and everywhere else. Then came the second song. Solid again. The third and fourth and fifth. All fine songwriting and enjoyable listening. But somewhere in there I zoned out a bit only to realize that I’d stopped really listening to the album. I thought it was good. At least, it seemed like it.
A few days later I’d see that incredible live show. And it was just that…incredible. In fact, go see them if you EVER have the opportunity. Watching those two brothers work a crowd is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. And then four days later, I had the opportunity to experience the full album, in its entirety, in the solitude of my own office. A little internet invention called LALA.com gives you the ability to listen to any album in its entirety…once. If you want to listen to any song again, you’ll get a 30-second iTunes-ish preview, unless you pay 10 cents or so…and then you can listen to it within LALA anytime you want. Pretty cool concept right? That’s what I thought, at first. Now, I’m not so sure. I think LALA has ruined music for me. Way more than iTunes ever could.
When I bought my first Wilco album, I had something invested in it. Literally, I had 15 bucks on the line. I was committed to enjoying it, at least enjoying it for its worth of $15. I gave it a second listen because of that very reason. In fact, that’s the same reason I gave it a third. Finally, the wheels began to turn. It was an acquired taste and I was slowly becoming a judge of fine art. I had to physically labor to get something out of it. But in the end, it was completely worth it.
With LALA, I’m able to listen to the whole album, all the way thru, for free. Afterwards, I’m left with one impression or another. If the record screams, “GO BUY ME NOW OR YOU WILL NEVER SLEEP WELL AGAIN!”…then I obey and Best Buy it. If not, I’m probably not going to spend my hard earned 15 bucks. But look at the loss here.
What if I’m completely missing out on another musical experience? What if I need to literally invest something in this, besides the time of one full listen, to get anything out of it? Does that say something about the music itself? Should it just be able to be consumed and enjoyed right away? Or is that the reason why so many people love/hate pop music? Am I asking too many philosophical over-played-out questions for the blogosphere? Sorry about that. I know…I kind of annoyed myself there for a second too.
Sorting out the deep-thinking pretentious college-aged kid questions, and getting back to the crux:
1 / How much of an impact does physically investing in something have on our actual enjoyment of it?
2 / Does that matter in respect to the “art” of the piece itself?
I’m the kind of guy that feels the need to answer my own tough questions, so here goes: I’m convinced that if I would’ve simply purchased the Avett’s album right away at the store, I’d still be listening to it every morning on my drive to work, and loving every second of it. And you know what? I think that does sort of taint the “art”. But you know what else? I think I’m ok with that. I think there’s a valuable lesson on love itself somewhere in here, especially on this romantic idea of love at first sight and the idea of laboring to love. But instead of running that dead, I think I’m going to go ahead and bow out now and let you connect the rest of the dots yourself.