Yes, I understand that the title of this post can be a little misleading, since I'm not at all bemoaning the quality of music today (or in the near future). However, what does disappoint me is the realization that, as time goes on, there will be less and less opportunities to discover lost pieces of musical development/history, especially in this era of internet technology and, both in conjunction with that and to a lesser extent, bootlegging. Allow me to explain this with more clarity. I read a wonderful article in the November issue of Harper's entitled "Unknown Bards," written by John Jeremiah Johnson. In it, he recounts an early fact-checking mission to uncover the lyrics of a rare blues LP, enlisting the help of musician/blues intellectual John Fahey. Sullivan's sketch of Fahey makes him come across as eccentric, which I always assumed was a stereotype of blues collectors/historians (the images that come to my mind are Steve Buscemi's character in Ghost World and some selected album covers by R. Crumb). However, this is not far off, according to the article:
"'The serious blues people are less than ten...most are to one degree or another sociopathic (p. 89)."
The article combined solid historical information with a very compelling musical treasure hunt. After my reading, I felt that these kinds of activities and scavengings will lose prominence as my generation gets older. If need be, I could easily go online to find out-of-print recordings and unreleased live shows. Hm, I want to re-listen to a Jeff Tweedy solo show from 2006. Click, click, done. As March of 2009 nears, I'm sure I could do some illegal searching for a preview of Neko Case's new studio album, which will undoubtedly be leaked at some point, which seems to be the case with all albums. With these thoughts, I'm getting more into the subject of music piracy as opposed to my original thoughts. However, it's that kind of technology that is a blessing and a curse. With all the bands I admire today, there's virtually no chance that something will become "lost." On the other hand, it eliminates the possibility of "hunting" for future generations. Today, the concept of an album being out-of-print does not carry the same urgency and fear that it does for early blues recordings.
Then again, there still might be the opportunity for discovery in other ways. I can only imagine that some artists (Conor Oberst comes to mind) have cabinets full of unreleased home recordings, ones that might remain out of sight for years to come. To some extent, I'm sure there's a teenager somewhere recording songs on his or her computer, songs that are absolute genius, but will not be heard by mass audiences. But for the most part, the majority of music will always be available. Overall, this is wonderful, but the idea of tracking down a long-lost Colin Meloy demo in fifty years just strikes me as intriguing. Hopefully, despite recording advances, there will still be an intangible element of mystery.