The power of a song

I hadn’t had a CD player in a while until I found a good one at a picker sale Saturday, so now I have a little complex that will play any of the formats I own music on — records (78, 45 and 33 rpm), CD, cassette, reel-to-reel and digital. I even have an 8-track deck a friend bequeathed me in the basement along with a box of cartridges, but I’ve yet to hook it up to see if it still works. That’s kind of the 8-track legacy, though, isn’t it?

Back in the beginning of recorded music, you could only fit three or four minutes worth of material on a disk, and so listening to music was an active activity. You didn’t really have time to let it sink into the background — one song ended, and if you wanted to listen to another, you had to physically cue it up on the record player.

The development of the long-playing record changed that somewhat, as you could fit five to 10 two- or three-minute songs on a side — or even a symphony, as you no longer had to break up classical music into chunks. The CD and cassette stretched the program to an hour or more.

And digital music took it even further. I still remember the radio station owner who pulled a 2-inch-long memory stick our of his automation system, held it lengthwise between his thumb and forefinger, and said, “That’s 1,000 songs.”

So it’s much easier nowadays to push a button and have unlimited background music at beck and call. It’s much more rare anymore to sit down at the music center and call songs up one at a time to listen, just listen to them.

But a song is meant to be heard. Musicians at bars and restaurants have it tough — they put the music out there, fated to be the soundtrack of whatever light drama is occurring among the drinkers and diners, who don’t notice. 

I imagine they know that somewhere in the room, someone is paying attention to the song, even if it’s only one person in the corner, and they perform for that person.

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