Saturday, August 15, 2009

on the sanctity of physical music.

[this is in response to an anonymous comment left on this post]

in this post, I'll attempt to properly explain why I hate digital music so much, and why physical albums mean so much to me.

here goes.

everyone who's ever stepped foot in my bedroom is always taken aback by the stacks of vinyl, the shelves and drawers of cds (there is more music in my dresser than clothing haha), and the walls of posters. oh, and my closet lined with set lists. when I have my own house, I want to cover my walls with my receipts from record stores and my ticket stubs, both of which I always save.

it's kind of obvious that I'm a music enthusiast.

what's not obvious to most people is that it wasn't always this way. I always get really jealous when people talk about growing up listening to Zeppelin or The Beatles, because I didn't.

I went to a private Islamic school when I was a kid. my parents are super conservative, and they didn't believe in pop music. my older brother, always the first one to rebel, exposed me first to pop-punk like Green Day and Blink 182 and later into rappers like Tupac and Biggie. but soon, I wanted to explore my own musical terrain.

when I was 15, I started listening to alternative radio, and I would make mix tapes by recording tunes off the radio. then I discovered limewire, and started to burn entire cds.

this is how I came across Is This It. it's because I really liked the Franz Ferdinand single ("Take Me Out") that would always play on the radio, and wikipedia directed me to The Strokes, a similar band.

I'd also borrow loads of cds from the public library, and burn my favourites (like XO by Elliott Smith)

but anyway, I always felt guilty for downloading music, but I knew I'd get in trouble if my parents found out what I was listening to. I swore to myself that one day, I'd buy all of the things that I had downloaded.

so I compromised. I started buying as many cds as I could afford and hiding them, kind of like Lane from Gilmore Girls. I'd listen to my cds-- both burned and bought-- under my covers at night, and these albums spoke to me like nothing else could. they gave me hope that one day I could be free. I felt the same thrill reading the liner notes as I did when I read Ralph Waldo Emerson or Betty Friedan. it was nothing short of catharsis. I knew that my brain and my music would pave my path to independence. I had to break free of the mold that my parents wanted me to fill. Arab women are expected to get married and raise nice families. that always disgusted me beyond reason. I wanted something different.

when I went off to college (on a full scholarship to UC Berkeley), I raided record stores like nobody's business, mostly buying things from the clearance cd racks. I had a part time job, and every month, I'd go down and spend most of my paycheck at Amoeba, only saving money for concerts.

and then I started collecting vinyl, which made fulfilling the promise I made to myself (of purchasing the albums which I had illegally downloaded years prior) a lot easier. a lot of the vinyl that I've bought are records that I burned and really loved back in high school, albums that I still listen to. going to these record stores also exposed me to tons of cool new music, and at a dollar a pop, I could afford to buy 20 albums a week. it was pretty great.

I still download music illegally, mostly leaked albums, but I only do so to sample albums. albums that I don't like, I delete, and the ones that I do like, I buy (usually, in the more expensive vinyl format), or I put on a list to buy later.

at this point, my parents know about my music addiction. I'd slowly bring home some records each time I'd visit them from college, but now, everything's out in the open. it still bothers them, but we're all adults now, and I don't have to sneak out to go to concerts, like I did when I was 16. for the most part, they've accepted me as I am.

when people talk about how great itunes is, and how inconvenient and obsolete physical albums have become, I get really annoyed. for me, physical music was always a luxury, one that I had to hide for years.

do you remember that scene in the beginning of Almost Famous, where Anita sneaks the Simon and Garfunkel record into the house, and a few scenes later, William's thrill at discovering the vinyl that she left him? those two scenes affect me the most from the whole movie.

a lot of us have parents who not only think that people like Joe Strummer or David Bowie are worthless, and will never appreciate the art that they left behind, but like to tell their kids that these people will burn in hell, alongside people who idolize them.

and they have kids like me, who love music more than anything in the world, and who couldn't give a damn about a G-d who would punish people for wanting to appreciate good music, and who tell their parents that they would much rather spend an eternity in damnation with these "wicked" people than a minute in paradise with religious bigots like themselves.

and these kids write stupid blogs about music because music is their favourite thing in the world and they have pipe dreams of being music journalists which are crushed when they realize how hard it is to get paid for your writing. so they decide to keep it as a hobby instead, knowing that they at least have the power to share their favourite music with some strangers who might just understand their obsession with music.

but whatever. I don't think I've ever told anyone all of that. that's about as much information about my personal life as you're ever gonna get.

I'll end this post with the ever-so-famous scene from Almost Famous, when they sing Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" on the bus.

I always get shivers (the good kind) when Penny Lane says "you are home". that sums up everything about me perfectly.

I think Almost Famous will always be my favourite movie. and In Transit, of course.


Robin said...

Thank you.

Though my reasons for buying lots of music in physical format are obviously different than yours, I still really enjoyed your story.

I buy a lot of CDs, but you'll be happy to know I purchased my first two vinyls just the other day. The Libertines - Up the Bracket and The Strokes - Is This It.

Little Gray Pixel said...

Thanks for sharing that. Your passion for music comes through in your writing, and that's why your blog is on my daily list of reads. That, and our taste in music is so simpatico.

Mary Shea said...

I am lucky to have a dad who loves both Metallica and Beethoven and therefore encouraged me to explore music in whatever form.

I can agree, though, that physical albums are so much better. The Christmas I received my ipod, I also got about $80 in itunes gift cards. I bought stuff digitally for a while. I don't remember my moment of realization or whatever, but I turned back to physical ones. I adore the album artwork. Also, I like it when the sleeves come with song lyrics. It's kind of like a sneak peak into the artist's world, I suppose.

Anyway. I envy your collection of music. I hope one day I'll have one like that.

_Jackie_ said...

Wow, I didn't know other people had to deal with that too. My parents were kind of the same way when I was younger. It was hard to get them to understand what's so special about it, but little by little, I got into music. I kind of feel that's the reason why I'm so obsessed with it now; I'm trying to make up for lost time.

But I definitely agree with you. I feel like buying music off of iTunes doesn't really let the buyer get the experience that the musician intended for them to have. And if lack of money was the case, then buying used CDs/LPs (whether from a record store or on ebay) would make it easier.

Katzen said...

I agree with you and all the above comments. There's nothing like listening to an album front to back and looking at the liner notes while you do it, because that's what the musicians intended. It must have been torture growing up like that, but your taste and appreciation for music are admirable and that's why I read this blog (and, er, because I know few else as obsessed with the Strokes). I, too, have a list of albums I've promised to buy when I actually have money, because, though I didn't grow up in a restrictive household, I did grow up in a poor one. I'd like to think that the type of artists we listen to would understand these kind of predicaments.

Oh - and what the hell! We're in the same spot on music journalism, but I might go for it anyway because the only money I need is for music, anyway. iTunes is terrible and blah blah blah. Oh, and what's this shit about Radiohead? I feel so behind.

Hanan said...

thanks for all the nice comments, you guys

to Robin, good going! two of my favourite albums ever. but just so you know, Room on Fire sounds best on vinyl from the three Strokes albums (even though Is This It is my favourite album of all time ever).

to Katzen, the Radiohead thing is just Thom Yorke expressing his frustration, I guess. he said he's tired of making full length LPs but I guess none of Radiohead's fans really believe it.

Tara said...

All of the above is why this is easily my favourite blog. Your commitment to music is really awesome and I really admire (and even aspire that my blog may end up like) your blog. Sorry if this doesn't make sense; I am very, very tired. Basic message: your blog is amazing.

Eric said...

I love the Gilmore Girls reference.

electricskeleton said...

There really is nothing like listening to an album from start to finsh and reading the liner notes. Mp3s are a good way to find new music but if you like a band nothing compares to the physical format.

I don't buy vinyl because I don't have anything to play it on. I love buying CDs though and am lucky enough to live nearby a second hand CD store, which has been eating up waht little money I have for years.

Sue said...

Wow - I love your passion for music! I also share your preference for physical formats, although I do download some things I buy CDs or vinyl of anything that is important to me. I noticed you like Peter Doherty and Babyshambles and wonder if you know about Adam Ficek's Roses Kings Castles project? Check out his music and his blog via his site at

Hanan said...

to Sue, I started listening to them last summer (I actually posted about them on this blog, I think.) and I picked up a vinyl copy of the album that I found in SF. it was a cool find, and I really like the album.

once again, thanks to everyone for the nice words.

Carolina said...

I know how you feel I love it when I can go down to Canterbury records and spend hours going trough their stuff and leaving with a stash under my arm. This Friday was just perfect I got some great stuff and walked down on Colorado ave and bought the new NME with Jules on the cover.

Sue said...

Have you heard the new RKC Apples and Engines EP too? It's amazing.

Hanan said...

no, I haven't even heard OF it. where can I find it?

Sue said...

You can order a CD or vinyl of the RKC EP from and you can preview the tracks (tho' not the best bits imho!)at
- I think you'll need to paste the links into your browser.

lixue said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Running to Music said...

I know this is an older post, but I am only just now discovering your blog. I added it to my reader for posts like this (and Sunday morning covers!). I love music for different, yet similar reasons and its nice to see a blog that is based on the musical passions of someone. Anyway, I'm a fan, keep it up!