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.

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, Dejah and Summer, and Blackberry, an insistent cat. Author of Echoes of Freedom Past, Full, Refuse to be Afraid, Gladness is Infectious, 24 flashes, How to Play a Blue Guitar, Myke Phoenix: The Complete Novelettes, A Bridge at Crossroads, The Imaginary Bomb, A Scream of Consciousness, and The Imaginary Revolution.

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