Thursday, January 17, 2008

Getting It Back, When You Never Had It

So let’s say there was a song you heard on the radio a few times, twenty years ago or more, and you’ve got a hankering to hear it again. Not a particularly obscure song—kind of a second-tier single, yeah, but a song from a multi-platinum album by a band that was, at one time, arguably the biggest in the world.

Here’s the thing, though; it’s a remix. An early remix staking out the territory between rock and dance that has long fascinated you, and doing that 80s thing that you love of deconstructing a song, taking simultaneous elements and making them sequential, isolating individual musical threads. You love it because it changes your awareness of how much is going on in the song; and when you take that new perception back to the original album track, it sounds so much deeper—because you are now listening on several different levels. (Hearing the segregated instrumental parts is also aces for actually learning to play the song, and as a working musician you appreciate that.)

So you poke around a little online, and you soon find a couple of versions of the song on mp3—each slightly different from the album track, but neither quite what you’re looking for. You enter a couple of search strings into your P2P client and let them run 24/7. Dozens of hits. And you download, or half-download, about twenty mp3s from different users, a bewildering variety of names—Club Mix, Special US Mix, Vocal Master Version 1, Version 2, French Import VERY RARE! Fan Club Flexi Dutch Export 12-inch 2-pak 7-inch B-Side Radio Promo RARE!. And for all the different names, they’re all the same two mixes.

You start to wonder. You only ever heard it one the one radio station, and then only a handful of times. Was it something one of the station DJs cooked up on his own? Did you maybe hallucinate the whole thing? Twenty years is a long time, man. Mind plays tricks, you know?

And five days into this exercise, you’re opening yet another download, unpromisingly titled US Promo Mix, not expecting much, and you freeze. Three explosive guitar chords—the same chord, actually, played three times—bang, bang bang; a harsh, metallic slide; a moment of reverberating stillness; and then the chord again, like a vehement afterthought.

And your eyes grow big, and you laugh. It’s not a grand triumph, in any reasonably-scaled scheme of things. But for the next five minutes, you are seventeen.

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