Look on the bright side — the New York Times has finally found a business it can defend, pushing back against the dangers of the left insanely promoting income inequality as a meme in the process:
The acquisition also included the expensive Beats headphones — $300 and up in a variety of colors so they also serve as fashion accessory. People will still pay large money for devices, and this weekend, thousands of people will spend at least $250 for three-day access to the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York. It’s a curious disconnect: Fans will pay top dollar for a music accessory or a music event. They just won’t pay for, oh yeah, music.
Writing in The Daily Beast last week, the musician Van Dyke Parks said that in the good old days, a song he recently wrote with Ringo Starr would have provided him “with a house and a pool.” But at current royalty rates, he estimated that he and the former Beatle would make less than $80, which means he will have to choose between a dollhouse and a kiddie pool and then share it with Mr. Starr.
Superstars like Beyoncé can drop an unannounced bomb on iTunes and sell a million copies in under two weeks, but most artists are having trouble treading water in the stream. Streaming services argue that as their subscriber base grows, musicians will be able to survive on many small slices of a very big pie.
On the bus ride home from dinner last week, I streamed most of the wonderful new album from Parquet Courts, courtesy of the Something for Nothing paradox. The $6 grapes were delicious, by the way, but I consumed them slowly and consciously, each one carrying not only lusciousness, but the knowledge that I had paid for them.
As someone who has watched the music industry go from a vibrant hit-making machine to near irrelevancy in the course of a couple of decades, I’m sympathetic to archliberal David Carr’s article, but the Times is arguably the worst place for it to be running. This is the newspaper that regularly rails against excessive consumerism by publishing profiles feigning praise for New Yorkers who have lived without toilet paper for a year, or articles on why the Third World should forgo the same air conditioning that cools the Times’ Eighth Avenue office building and Thomas Friedman’s mansion. (Even as the Times defends aerosol-powered graffiti vandals over the owners of private property they’ve defaced.) The paper that began the 1990s by running Al Gore’s manifesto comparing global warming to Kristallnacht, and concluded 2012 by calling for an end to the Constitution. If the environment is in such perilous condition that we must forgo air conditioning and toilet paper, CDs and iPods are the ultimate non-essential luxury.
Then there are the Times’ regular insults on consumers themselves, with Pinch Sulzberger boasting that as New York magazine reported, “alienating older white male readers means ‘we’re doing something right.’” Or Carr himself calling the Times’ potential Midwest readers “The dance of the low-sloping foreheads.” Not to mention, the Timesperson arrested during the anti-capitalist/pro-collectivist Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 and those who blindly supported it, such as Paul Krugman. Sure bankers are a tempting target, no matter which president they support, going back to Thomas Nast’s late 19th century cartoons, and the striped-pants man on the ’30s-era Monopoly box. But at least they don’t strike as hypocritical a pose as music executives and the product they’re selling, as Mark Steyn wrote in 2007:
The music biz have been humbug revolutionaries ever since 1955 when Bill Haley and Elvis put them in the permanent-revolution business. The kids tore up movie seats to “Rock Around the Clock,” even though its composer wrote it as a foxtrot, and its lyricist was born in 1890. When Max Freedman was a rebellious teenager, the big hits were “The Merry Widow Waltz,” Kipling’s “Road To Mandalay,” and “When A Fellow’s On The Level With A Girl That’s On The Square.” And, unlike most revolutions, the regime itself—in the shape of RCA, Columbia, Warner Brothers, and the other corporate entities that dominate the business to this day—proved far wilier survivors than Louis XVI. They’ve made a very nice living out of ersatz revolution.
Speaking of the Ancien Régime, variations on Carr’s article have appeared in the Times for at least a decade now; back around 2004, libertarian blogger Radley Balko explored the intersection of “Tower Records and the Conservative Left.” When the Tower Records chain fell apart in 2004, a New York Times columnist by the astonishing name of Verlyn Klinkenborg(!) wrote:
But we have reached what to me, back in 1966, was an unimaginable place — an America where the small-town variety stores have gone out of business because a Wal-Mart opened up out by the highway; an America where with a few keystrokes and a valid credit card you can own virtually any recording you want, the instant it’s released. Somehow it sounds more inviting than it actually is.
As I’ve written before, it sounds pretty darn amazing to me — it’s also an America where you can read just about any newspaper from anywhere in the world online, or start your own digital version, should you so desire. And the flip-side is that any musician is guaranteed of getting listened to, particularly if he applies just a modicum of self-promotion. If you make it to the top, the odds are greatly decreased that you’ll have your own private plane to tour in, ala Led Zeppelin, but given the Times’ obsessions with equalizing income, that should be a feature from their perspective, not a bug, right?
But then, as Balko wrote, in words that echo in the recent Times article at the top of this post:
You know, you sometimes get the feeling the day after the polio vaccine was invented, today’s left would have run editorials lamenting the good ol’ days, when we were a little more cautious about what swimming pools we jumped into, and expressing sadness that we’d now have no new stories about the afflicted overcoming their disability to inspire the rest of us.
I’m not kidding. They’re that resistant to change. Every mill that shuts down is a “sign of our sad times.” No matter that the new mill will do things better, faster and cheaper than the old one. New farming techniques grow more food on less land. But dammit, if there wasn’t something romantic about the old-stye “family farm” that’s deserving of government protection. Innovation isn’t celebrated, it’s excoriated for displacing some idealized vision of the way things once were. In matters of progress and dynamism, the left is far more conservative than the conservatives are.
Given who Carr is defending and the eternal recurrence of the topic in the pop culture-obsessed Times, Carr’s article is ultimately Columbia Records’ infamous “The Man Can’t Bust Our Music” ad from 1968 for a new generation — or maybe the same generation, considering the aging demographic of the Times’ core readers and the paper’s equally sclerotic worldview.