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Or, Bootlegging after Repeal

Your Humble Blogger is, as Gentle Readers may already be aware, a fanatic about Elvis Costello. I used to be something of a completist about it. I know, of course, that there were some people who were much more serious Elvis Costello completists, who were in networks of other fans, reading zines and BBS boards and trading tapes. I was never part of those networks, lacking the time, money and energy for it. But I had, oh, half-a-dozen tapes. A couple of concerts that had been taped off the radio, some demos and B-sides. When a friend happened across one of his (numerous) appearances on other people's albums, they would tape them for me. I'd get a cassette in the mail with “The St. Stephen's Day Murders”. That sort of thing.

Of course, when the internet and file sharing took off, it became much easier to be a completist. There were plenty of sites where a fellow could get hold of that track where he sings “Stand Down Margaret” with the TKO horns at the end of Big Sister’s Clothes in Austin in 1983. And you could do it without the actual networking thing—there were opportunities for sending messages and sharing back-and-forth, but there were also opportunities for just taking the files and listening to them on your own. Wearing headphones.

And that grew and grew and grew, of course, and then somewhat shrank and shrank and shrank. Mr. Costello was one of the recording artists who re-released everything with extra tracks, and then with more bonus extra tracks, and then with a second disc of super-extra-bonus tracks and then with a DVD with another song on it.

It is always difficult to be both a completist and cheap. I am cheap. I didn’t buy those CDs, unless either I had never gotten around to buying that one on CD or in one case when my old no-bonus-track CD was damaged, possibly by having, oh, an excess of maple syrup on it. Like happens now and then. The bonus tracks were, for the most part, stuff that had been the most widely circulated anyway, so I had quite a few of them on cassette, although of course eventually my cassettes went away… the thing that really happened, I think, is that owning a bunch of obscure tracks by your favorite recording artist lost its underground cachet. They weren’t obscure tracks anymore. Almost any collection could be duplicated nearly instantly by any jerk with a big bank account. Or with somebody else’s credit card. You didn’t need to dig through the bins at Disc Diggers or Amoeba; you could just buy stuff on-line and have it sent.

And then, around, oh, let’s say 2000 or 2001, when I finally finished ripping my CDs to a hard drive, I found I had too much music already to make new acquisitions seem attractive. I haven’t entirely stopped acquiring music since then, but I have slowed down a good deal, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time or money on getting new music when it takes me a year to listen to the stuff I already have. Something has to really fall in to my lap if I’m going to add it to the hard drive at this point.

Like this video of Mr. Costello and Bruce Springsteen performing “I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down”, which I came across the other day. There is very little preventing me from adding that as an mp3 to my hard drive, along with the 50 gigabytes of stuff I already have. And I might do it. It’s an awesome cover, and I would enjoy listening to it now and again.

But I’m not going to add all of the Elvis Costello stuff on YouTube to my hard drive, am I? All the stuff somebody uploaded from their DVR of his show, all the stuff somebody shot at a concert somewhere—there are thousands of videos. Many of them suck. I mean, many of them wouldn’t have been passed around back in the day, when duping tapes took some time and effort. On the other hand, many of them are wonderful. Brilliant things. And that’s just Elvis Costello—do y’all know about Dr. John and Jools Holland stomping through some boogie-woogie piano on some television show? What do you mean, you’re not a Squeeze UK completist?

Are there any pop music completists anymore? How would that work?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I heard a theory once (i think not from you, though if it was from you and i am just repeating it back, i apologise) that pop music completism was a '90s thing, because as you note, we were at a point where it was easy, but not too easy, to use technology to share music with people.

I was never much of a pop music completist, but my involvement peaked in the mid-90s, when i was in high school and traded Cure tapes with people i found on mailing lists. So i will put myself down as a mild data point in favor of the Dialup Theory of Collection-Oriented Music Trading, though the truth is that i also had a lot of time when i was in high school, and that must matter too.

Yes, it's quite possible that the Golden Age of Music Completism was not 1992 but 16. Good to have another data point, though.


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