Barb and I recently bought a new car, an Equinox. But I had already signed the papers before I discovered that it did not include a CD player. I told Barb, meaning every word of it, that had I known – and learned that no CD player is available for that or any GMC model – I wouldn’t have traded our several-years-old Equinox for this shiny new one. That I would have driven the older model until either it or its CD player sputtered and died.
We do a lot of short-hop traveling – food and fun in the Chicago suburbs, visiting Nate and Abby and Sam in St. Louis, getaways to Galena IL, shopping trips to Des Moines. A good part of what makes these trips fun is listening to music or an audio book, to and from. Like a lot of you, I would imagine, I have a big collection of audio books on CD, including Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and for that matter a lot of my own stuff. The pleasure of hearing Stacy Keach read one of the Mike Hammer novels of Mickey’s and mine is a truly transcendent experience for me.
And my CD collection of music, as you might imagine, is ridiculously large.
But the automobile manufacturers have decided I don’t need a CD player anymore (just as a few years ago they decided I didn’t need a cassette player). They give not a single shit that I have a large library of CDs, or that millions of others also have similar libraries. After all, they provide ports for flash drives and input access for your smart phone and so on.
I have mentioned this to others, and not just baby boomers, and they are appalled to learn their next new car will be CD-player-less. Right now on PBS Membership drives, CD packages are being offered to participating viewers, often with a direct pitch about the joy of listening to these classic tunes in their car. Infomercials do the same. Vintage radio outfits continue to offer their product exclusively on CD, and Best Buy and other retailers continue to sell the little silver discs (albeit giving them less real estate).
Only now, if I want to listen to one of my CDs, I have to use a fairly ancient Sony Walkman that I can play through the AUX of my “infotainment center” (God help us!), which requires various wires being snaked here and there, cluttering up that shiny new car.
That I can play my phone through my radio (yes, radio, that’s what I call it) has turned out to be as close to a saving grace as I’m liable to find in this sorry situation. My son taught me to load a bunch of albums available “free” as an Amazon Prime member. Also, the purchase of some CDs at Amazon provides a free “auto-rip,” which is to say a digital version that plays on your smart phone. Wistfully, I remember a day when my phone wasn’t smarter than me….
This solution is less than ideal, because other than the “free” downloads Amazon Prime provides, and those CDs that have included digital versions, I am left with countless CDs that no longer have a home in my dashboard.
So. One of my Christmas presents (from my lovely wife) was a $100 gift card at Amazon. This I spent buying nine albums I already own so that I could download them onto my phone. Bobby Darin, the Zombies, Paul Williams, and so on. Scratching the surface (like my needle used to on vinyl) of my CD collection.
As for the Stout, Christies and even Collins books that I have on CD, I have to make use of Amazon’s Audible, which is not free…though their yearly membership gives you quite a few credits for a decent price. That same evening I spent my hundred bucks on albums I already own on CD, I used up half of my credits buying Nero Wolfe books that, yes, you guessed it, I already own. And by the way, not every Wolfe novel is available.
Wasn’t this supposed to be about the Beatles?
Well, as you may have heard or read, Beatles albums are finally downloadable on multiple platforms. Almost everything of the Beatles is “free” (I insist on the quotes) if you’re an Amazon Prime member (not free, no quotes required). So I gorged myself on Beatles. Filled my digital library with ‘em. (Make that “library.”)
I love the Beatles, at least up through and including REVOLVER. After that, it gets spotty for me, possibly because I think LSD conspired with that Indian guru to at least partially ruin the Beatles. I have a few friends – terribly confused individuals, like the otherwise sane Ed Gorman – who hate the Beatles, and prefer the Stones. (Nothing against the Stones, and for that matter I like pretty much all of the British invasion bands from clean-cut Herman’s Hermits to scruffy Them, from the power-pop Dave Clark Five to the growling Animals. And the Zombies, my lord, the Zombies….)
Here’s the thing. If you were in junior high or high school when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, and like everybody on the planet you saw those appearances, your life changed. A rock band playing their own instruments. Memorable pop tunes and smart covers. Four immediately strong personalities. Infectious humor. Lead singing and harmony that thrilled even while eschewing the slickness of what professional singing was supposed to sound like.
As for the Stones, the Beatles wrote their first hit for them (a UK one, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” if I recall correctly). They would have never made it into the culture without the benefit of the Beatles. No British group would have.
The current Beatles CD and Blu-ray release “1″ was another great Christmas present from my lovely bride, and that’s why all of its songs turned up instantly in my downloadable library at Amazon. I got the most tricked-out version, with a CD but also two Blu-rays of performances and music videos. I will admit to you that I have a sentimental streak, and it was glowing as I watched the boys grow and change, and as all those memories flooded back in. I’d been involved in music my entire life, but never would have dreamed of being in a band…until the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
Do I have to say that the world changed, too, because of these four? That hair styles – my father bribed my barber to cut off my Beatle-length hair – would symbolize the generational rift even before Vietnam was a Thing? That they were at the forefront, for better or worse, of psychedelia? That they were always several steps ahead of their competition? That they quit while they were way, way ahead?
So much more could be said, but I have to mention the poignance of seeing how much Paul and John liked each other, how they laughed and interacted. They were lads. By the time they were men, it was over. One last rooftop mini-concert and out.
It was rock ‘n’ roll, yes, but it was so much more. If you were there, and didn’t notice it – or refuse now to recognize it – you don’t quite understand the second half of the Twentieth Century.
As for the Twenty-first Century, I now have to listen to the Beatles, baby, when I drive my car…listening to them, that is, on my phone.
I will have something a bit special to say here next week, but until them…Happy New Year.