Down and out with the archive computer

I feel in the mood to burble a while. The recent viewing of “Oil City Confidential” has had me thinking more than a little about music and life. I’m absolutely fine as long as I never look in a mirror. On the odd occasion that I accidently stumble in front of one, the true extent of the rift in the space/time continuum becomes glaringly apparent. Am I really that old? Yes, I am. I could, perfectly legally, have great grand children – and I had the gall to moan about how old and shambolic Wilko Johnson looked last week.

… but I really don’t feel as old as he looked!

Oddly, my reaction has been to have a nostalgia binge. In the main, I was concerned with the music but as is always the case, I strayed into the realms of the internet and computers. They are, of course, all connected. It’s fifteen years ago that I opened my web site. In those days, you could leave your machine on overnight to download music and maybe, if you hadn’t dropped the connection, you’d have an album sitting on your desktop in the morning. Try it nowadays and it can take just one minute.

The sad thing about that is nothing has any real value. If you’ve got a Rapidshare account and a free day, you can download hundreds, if not thousands of albums. Browsing http://www.rlslog.net will mean that albums, games, TV shows, films and even e-books are just a free click away. In many ways, I think the music we listen to, like so much else in our lives has truly become disposable.

Back in the days, you could go into real shops selling real records, where you could stand in a booth and listen before buying. If it was an album, you’d sometimes eschew the ubiquitous carrier bag, unless it was transparent. Then, at least, your peers could wonder at your taste and style and envy the record you were taking home to play. Sans carrier, it was an under the arm job and that was fraught with danger. Would your garb clash with the latest artistic statement you were carrying? In these days of iPods filled with a lifetime’s listening, people really haven’t got a clue.

In my teens, I wore an khaki Army greatcoat when most around me were clad in Air Force blue ones. My personal feeling was this was a far better background for most albums one might be transporting. While it never seemed to be compulsory to have a Roger Dean cover under the arm, there does seem to have been something about them that appealed to the teenage male psyche. Those were innocent days. It was perfectly possible to walk out of a record shop and, because of the vinyl you were carrying, find yourself in someone else’s home, listening to them try and out play you in a rather sad version of top trumps.

Essentially, everyone was trying to garner “Prog Points”. The weirder the cover, the longer the tracks, the more unpronounceable the track titles or band name, the more inaccessible the music – the higher the “Prog Points”. These “innocent” days were possibly marred by a misuse of copious quantities of cannabis that dictated when an album scored incredibly high “Prog Points”, the listener could at least declare, “Oh, wow man!”

The 1980’s were a big let-down for me. I’d liked the energy of punk but the styles of the New Romantics were too bizarre for my tastes. I can easily accept that it probably had little to do with musical trends and far more to do with me, in my twenties, trying to find identity when it seemed that all around me had lost theirs. Decades can change but that doesn’t mean my listening habits had to. They didn’t but that was no excuse for some bands to treat their fans as lab-rats and expose them to a fanciful form of musical experimentation that would see some groups blatantly try to jump on any passing band-wagon.

In some cases, we even had musicians with hugely successful albums behind them, turning their back on on the recording studio and opting, instead, for the soundstage to create that most hideous of entities, the pop promo video. Now, of course, everyone is a video director, a reporter and … a blogger. I can accept that it offers everyone a freedom to communicate and artistic expression but it doesn’t seem to have any excitement.

For a collector of rock video like me, YouTube is a dream come true but it’s also my worst nightmare. I spent more than a decade trading video around the world and now, it would take you weeks to garner what I’ve collected. It all seems so lifeless. There may be ease of use and speed of download but it feels moribund. The fact that ad agencies now use viral e-mail campaigns is surely proof of this.

Rockmine, as a web site went online on July 18th, 1995. The world wide web, as it then was, had been in existence for 20 months. They were strange, exciting, halcyon days. I had an Apple Powerbook 180c. A stunning machine that looked a bit like a Tonka Toy computer and had a 9 inch colour screen and a massive 3mb RAM. With RamDoubler and MaxRam, I could con the poor beast into thinking it had 36mb RAM. Enough to run an email client, browse the web and work in PhotoShop! New, it cost well over £ 2,000. I bought mine second hand for £ 800 and have never had the heart to throw it out, even although it has long since ceased to boot up.

I used to frequent the newsgroups in those early days. The Internet Marketing Digest and the VRML list were my two favourites. Everyone was trying to work out how to market themselves and some of us had hopes of a true virtual reality in cyberspace. One day on the IMD, a member was kind enough to give all the other members a mail to which we could post details of our sites. He was Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo and he guaranteed we’d get listed within 24 hours! On the VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) list, the members once got an even stranger posting. We were asked to check out the US Army’s tank battlefield simulator that they were building on the web.

Technology keeps expanding and yet I seem to remain unexcited by it. The nearest I’ve got to it of late is a bit perverse. For the last 4 months, I’ve been without a Mac laptop which, sadly, has troubled me deeply. It’s the first time in nearly 15 years that I haven’t had a Mac portable with me at almost all times. The straightened strictures of the current economic climate have discounted any possibility of getting a new one.

I do have a PC laptop which, like any PC’s is a tad unstable but at least it is a portable computer – made all the more acceptable by the fact that it now runs Mac OS 10.5.5! How sad am I that instead of getting excited about music, I’m genuinely pleased to have conned a poor unsuspecting PC into running Apple software, even if it has to be as a virtual machine.

Here’s a screen grab of my desktop

and a close up of the System Profiler

OS X running on an Intel Celeron M! How cool is that?

Oh, and just in case you wondered, it is perfectly useable.

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