Alive Inside / I Need That Record

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In the next room, I can hear the interviews and voiceover from a film about the disappearance of record stores, “I Need That Record.” Lenny Kaye is talking about holding the artifact of the record and its ability to summon a time and place. Putting aside the critique of being caught up in the vortex of a commodity fetish and disjuncture addressed by Benjamin in his classic essay about art in the age of mechanical reproduction, Kaye’s yearning for that kind of encounter aligns itself with my own fondness for small press magazines and chapbooks from the 1970s and 1980s.

I took a peek at some of Brendan Toller’s film just now, and it showed the store space of a record store completely vacated and cleaned up. The former owner is heard saying, “There’s not a trace that anything happened here, that any band played here, that anybody met somebody here” and that what he misses is “community.” That kind of evacuation and erasure is not specific to record stores, of course. It is an essential part of the reproduction of social life in capitalism, and it amounts to a kind of Alzheimer’s disease of cultural meaning.

Oddly enough, Linda and I happened to watch another documentary film the night before: Alive Inside: the Story of Music and Memory. In this film, a social worker (Dan Cohen) undertakes the project of trying to stimulate women and men who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease in assisted care nursing facilities. He discovers that the one way to “wake them up” is to provide them with electronic devices that can play a large backlist of music that would have been familiar to them as young people. Almost immediately, these individuals begin to respond to the music by being able to talk about their experience of hearing the music and moving their bodies in response to the beat. It may be true that corporate America has requisitioned both the pharmaceutical treatment of aging people as well as how people listen to the music that helps define their youthful years, but it appears that the power they wield is not so all encompassing that it can seduce individuals such as Dan Cohen away from finding palliative care that restores the plasticity of memory.

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