REAL–Compared to what? The Pale Imitation

I wasn’t there at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969. I wish I had been.

Eddie Harris and Les McCann walked onto the stage and though they had hardly rehearsed at all, launched into an adlibbed song that made history. Ironically enough, the song contained the line, "Real… compared to what?"

A million copies later, the vinyl souvenir of that live performance was a classic.  Les McCann & Eddie Harris – Swiss Movement: Montreux. The vinyl LP isn’t the same as the original concert, but it’s convenient and sounds great.

Twenty years later, "perfect sound forever" brought us the CD version. There’s no pops and crackles, but to my ears, it’s just a reminder of the depth of the LP.

Then they had us move everything to MP3. Now I’ve got the CD version on my iPod. There are far fewer bits and it doesn’t sound as good, but it reminds me of the original. (if "original" means the analog recording, not the live event, where I wasn’t.)

Now, I’ve got a Monster cable for my car that lets me broadcast the MP3 version of the CD version of the vinyl version of the live event over the FM airwaves to my car radio. It sounds like Eddie’s in the Holland Tunnel. And it’s not even close to music, but it reminds me of the way I felt when I heard the album.

This is not just happening to music. The cellphone conversation I have with my friend Jonathan has content, but the tone and tenor of his voice merely remind  me of the way I feel when I hear him live.

And the millions of digital photos I see online don’t look anything like the original high resolution versions, which, of course, look nothing like the thing in real life.

My dad used to tell me a joke. This guy is on a tour of the state prison with the warden. They walk into the lunchroom and see the following:

A prisoner stands up. He says, "142!"

Everyone laughs hysterically.

Another prisoner stands up. He is giggling, but manages to blurt out, "884."

The place rocks with laughter.

The tourist can’t figure out what’s going on. He asks the warden.

"Well, you see, these guys are all here for life sentences. They’ve heard every joke a million times. So, instead of retelling the jokes, they just call out the number."

"Wow," the tourist says, "Can I try that?"

The warden is dubious, but says, "sure."

"191," cries the tourist. The place is dead quiet. Like a tomb.

Humiliated, the tourist turns to the warden and asks what he did wrong.

"It’s the way you tell it," said the warden with a wry smile.

I wonder what happens when our digital culture has nothing to do but spread pale imitations of the original experiences? I wonder what happens when the media companies that depend on our attention start losing it when all we’ve got is a ringtone.

I think my books change a lot more minds than my blog does. But books don’t spread the way digital ideas do.

At the same time, the good news from sites like JamBase is that they’re using inherently low-rez digital media to sell people on showing up to hear the highest-rez live stuff.

Are you in the souvenir business?