Despite the pundits claiming that no one wants to own physical recordings anymore, last Friday I waited in a line that spiraled around itself three times and then all the way down the block to attend the annual WMFU Record Fair. This annual event offers all sorts of off-beat fare both on LP and CD, but primarily on LP. And this crowd had gathered more than three hours before the event opened to the general public. (Desperate collectors were admitted early for a hefty fee of $25; it was only $6 after 7 p.m.) Plus, as I was leaving with my hands full of vinyl, I ran into Fred Cohen, the proprietor of the wonderful Jazz Record Center, who told me that his store had also been crowded all week—apparently with folks who came to town especially for the WFMU Fair.
So how is WFMU able to buck historical inevitability? Or are the pundits wrong this time?
I’m a hardcore record collector and so admittedly this is a pet peeve query, but I bring it up because it is emblematic of so many other pronouncements I’ve heard regularly my entire adult life. Proclamations like: classical music is dead; jazz is dead; twelve-tone music is dead; disco is dead; etc. Declare something a cadaver and its eulogy has already been penned hundreds of times.
But history does not conform to neat trajectories. Classical music, jazz, and disco are all very much alive and still have tons of fans all over the world. And while historical hindsight has revealed that during the so-called heyday of twelve-tone music there were tons of composers still writing tonal music, dodecaphonic composers haven’t all completely abandoned their methods just because the neo-romantics came along.
The lesson of all of this is that individual will can ultimately trump trends. But what should make the continued excitement about physical recordings particularly heartening is that all of this buying and selling is taking place despite uncertainty over the global economy. In fact, perhaps the business sector could learn something from music here.