This past Saturday was just an ordinary weekend spent working at Decatur Library. I was downstairs checking in patron returns when my eye happened upon Fiona Apple’s latest album, the brilliant The Idler Wheel… This is an album I recently purchased from iTunes without hearing any singles from or having to know anything about because, hey, it’s Fiona Apple so I knew it would be remarkable. I downloaded the deluxe edition of this album which included the LP, three video clips of Ms. Apple’s live performance at SXSW, and a digital booklet featuring liner notes, artwork and lyrics to the songs.
The library’s copy of this CD was locked and ready to be placed on Decatur’s holds pickup shelf for one very lucky patron with discerning musical taste (You’ll love it, Patron-I-Don’t-Know! Trust me!). But I had to open it to see the booklet. Yeah, iTunes provided a digital booklet but to me nothing beats the simplicity, the tangibility of holding an album booklet in hand and carefully pouring over it. In this case, I scanned the booklet to read the production credits and the lyrics. Then, of course, I put the booklet back in its rightful place and got back to work.
That little booklet reading break served two purposes: 1) to clarify a lyric I’d been mishearing in the song “Jonathan” (“just tolerate my little fist/ tugging on your forest-chest”…oh, that’s what she’s saying) and 2) to remind me of why the digital-music experience will never completely replace a physical album in hand. At least, it doesn’t for me anyway.
Since Saturday I’ve been rifling through my CD collection making sure all of my album booklets were in their proper places. But also I’ve grown slightly regretful about digital music purchases I’ve made in the past. While I enjoy the convenience of being instantly able to obtain an album with the swipe of a finger and the confirmation of one’s Apple ID, the listening experience of a new album still seems a bit lacking without a fresh booklet to peel open and images to scan over as you absorb this new addition to your music collection.
There are several books in the Library that touch on how we music-lovers experience an album. Here are a couple that you may enjoy:
The Perfect Thing: How The iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture and Coolness by Steven Levy: With the advent of the iPhone and the iPad, the sweet little gadget that started it all, the iPod, seems a bit quaint in comparison. Still, author Steven Levy’s insightful and engaging 2007 book is a great read on the creation, the success and the cultural impact of the iPod.
100 Best Album Covers by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell: Storm Thorgerson is the acclaimed designer of several classic album covers including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon. I feel it only fair to mention this as folks may wonder what makes him an authority on the best album covers ever. This is still a cool book that offers fascinating back story on the creation of many well-loved album covers. Of course, lists like this are subjective but they make for fun debate.