Monday, December 28, 2009

Moments of the Year: Phonogram-The Singles Club #6 (of 7)

There is a year like this for all art-types, and for many of us, several years scattered throughout late teenhood and early adulthood. For me it was 1994. That was the bedsit year, the year of partial existence, the year the bedroom turned into a library and a music studio. It was the year of reading books because you wanted to not because they were on the AP curriculum reading list. It was the summer of making odd mix-tapes filled with art school British bands and indie American bands from cities next to bigger cities, like Stockton or Aberdeen. It was the summer of drawing pretentious cartoons on off-white card-stock and folding them into the plastic cassette-case of the blank TDK holding your latest masterpiece. I'd spend an entire hour carefully writing out the track list in black fine-point ink, allowing each line of impossibly small print to dry fully before moving on to the next. For a good month, every tape started out with a Suede track, most likely "My Insatiable One". That opening guitar riff sounds as if being played on strings coated with silver, and it's brittleness is daring you to get closer to your speakers, daring you to brave getting hit by the sharp flying notes. And when they didn't open the symphony, Suede would always have one or two songs present somewhere. As would Blur, something off Parklife but definitely not "Girls & Boys", because that's too easy, too expected, and "Magic America" is right better, anyways.

This is all before the internet ruined just about everything. This is when driving to a town three towns away from where you lived just to visit a record store that sold imports from Europe was just another day in your young life. You'd pile into the car with your goth friend and find yourselves on a freeway and then in some town with cafés and tree-lined streets, and then in some record store staffed by people who looked cooler than anyone you'd ever gone to school with. Then a chicano kid in an argyle sweater-vest and penny-loafers sells you some Morrissey singles out from inside a glass counter, and as you talk with him you just know that tricked out Vespa in the parking lot, with the chrome bars and endless mirrors, must be his. Your goth friend buys albums with covers that look like photocopied stills form 1930's horror movies. You both buy Pizzicato Five imports with their jewel-cases wrapped in Japanese characters. You both buy magazines, back issues of Select and handmade fanzines with pictures of skinny pale kids dressed in black leather biting each other on the necks. It's all OK and everything's alright and we feel better than you because of what's coming out of our stereos.

This is 1994 and this is before the internet ruined everything, because for all you kids out there reading this, I want you to know exactly what happened. The internet has ruined everything. That record store is gone now, and so are those glass counters with CD's and 45's with their sleeves staring back out at our young eyes, tempting us with images of a lifestyle that could be ours with the drop of a needle. Those racks of magazines are gone now, too, just about. The oversized imported rags with their Union Jacks and slangy headlines and skinny boys and girls posing in second-hand glamour and white customs stickers that read "Printed in the UK" are gone. The odd-sized, folded up, saddle-stapled, hand-numbered, hand-drawn, photocopied on goldenrod, on hot pink, on sky blue office paper fanzines are gone. The racks were filled with them, stuffed with so much weirdness and oddity and strangeness, with poems and manifestos and cartoons, with colors and ink stains and newsprint, with dog-eared dreams and wishes and hopes.

The tangible nature of music is gone. There was a time when we could hold onto music, hold an album in our hands, press play and record buttons at the same time and make a tape filled with our feelings and give that tape to a girl we liked or a boy we liked, and then fantasize about them taking it home and pressing play and understanding exactly what we are saying to them because they can hear it in the songs we chose for them. That's gone. Mixtapes are gone, replaced by downloads and pods. Fanzines are gone, replaced by blogs. And is there any point in ever having children? No, I don't know.

This is a blog, and the irony is not lost on me. This particular post on this blog is about a comic book printed and published on paper, a comic book entitled Phonogram, about youths in the modern era who still buy albums on vinyl. This particular issue of this particular comic is about one of those youths, listening to a Dexy's Midnight Runners' album whilst sat alone in his bedroom, writing out on a manual typewriter a plan for his life in the form of a pasted up homemade 'zine. As he types out his manifesto, we see it forming before our very eyes, as he pulls panels from off the pages we have just read, or tears away pages we have yet to read. It's magnificent, and though the story takes place in the not very distant past of 2006, it's really about a time long gone, and it's for those of us who miss that time dearly, and for those of us who do what we can to hold onto that which has passed away.

The image of a man in his early-twenties in the year 2006 pulling out a vinyl record to play on a turntable in a small room of his flat didn't strike me as odd until I'd read the issue a few times through. I'm of a generation that still remembers when that was the normal way of listening to music. When you bought one album at a time and listened to the hell out of it, until the grooves wore down or the plastic warped in the heat. This young man, on the surface, appears too young for that, but then age always has been just a number. He represents all modern-day archeologists holding onto the relics and artifacts of by-gone eras that were only a few decades ago, either because they lived through those times or because they wish they had. I understand this because I am this.

You see, next up, now that the tangibility of music is gone, will be film. DVD's and the like will go away shortly as technology comes around to figuring out how to get rid of them. Books on paper are already facing down the end, soon to join magazines and newspapers on the junk-pile of naïve antiquities. And soon to join these pulps and rags of gossip, news, and sport? Why, comics, of course. Already the buzz-saw of supposed progress is comic to take your long-boxes away and replace them with digital comic books you will be able to read in the palm of your hand on some sleek touch-screen device that you can also text your friends on. (We don't even talk to our friends anymore. We text them, or change our FaceBook status and hope they get the message.) And after the books fall away, then too, will the comic book stores, and with them, civilization. I've seen this happen in other peoples' lives, but now it's happening in mine.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 (of 7) written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Jamie McKelvie and Julia Scheele, was released on December 9, 2009 by Image Comics.

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