Hansen: The real thing is always king

If given the choice, would you want butter or margarine? Sugar or artificial sweetener? Vinyl or digital music?

The answer to all, of course, is, yes. Give me the real thing. And for obvious reasons.

Butter doesn't have the trans fatty acids that cause heart attacks.

Sugar is not made with all the controversial fake stuff that defines "artificial."

And vinyl just sounds better.

We are in a societal shift where old is new — and not because it's trendy or retro, but because there is value in the original source files.

For the first time in modern history, we are a significant transgenerational culture. From music to food, teens to octogenarians, it's not about the decade you grew up in but the quality and staying power of the experience.

In other words, Pandora doesn't have an algorithm for a unique life.

"The kids today like our music," said Jim Otto, owner of the landmark Laguna Beach record store, Sound Spectrum. "Our music now is ultra-cool, even more cool than we thought it was at the time."

And by "our music" Otto is not only referring to the classic '60s or '70s rock, but to the crossover music that appeals to independent audiences looking for originality.

Otto gave the example of the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and highlighted the comparisons to today's Coachella. The three-day Monterey festival was the first of its kind and established the blueprint for subsequent festivals.

Among many other artists, the Monterey lineup included Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and Ravi Shankar (rock, soul and Eastern). An astounding 45 years later, Coachella fits this same model, attracting everything from hard rock to reggae to dubstep.

The reason this diverse approach works is simple: People want a legendary experience.

"Music hits on a subdermal level," said Otto, who firmly believes in the transformational power of hands-on music.

"With digital, people don't have anything to hold. It's all bits and an overload of information," he said. "Plus, with records people can listen to songs in the order that they were intended."

Last Saturday was Record Store Day, the international event that is like Christmas in April for record stores.

For fun, Otto sometimes plays music in the store that he believes will resonate with certain customers, based solely on their appearance or window-shopping habits.

He will watch with amusement as they start to move and bob, then walk up to the counter asking, "Who is this?"

"At record stores like Sound Spectrum, someone behind the counter cares about what they're selling you," he said.

If customers like Tom Waits, chances are they will appreciate Leonard Cohen, Louis Armstrong or Beck.

But beyond the style or preference of music, there is the qualitative value of old-school vinyl, as opposed to the vacuous 99-cent download.

"I sell more vinyl than CDs now," Otto said.

Make no mistake, digital music is still the king of sales. There is no going back. But on a percentage basis, vinyl resurgence is impressive, showing 40% growth over the last year, and it is the fastest growing musical format segment in the industry, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Perhaps the reason for this overall flashback is one of character. We acknowledge the alleged superiority of margarine, aspartame and mp3, but we have trust issues. We hold them at arm's length because they are not one of our own.

They are forced on us, not embraced. They are manufactured, measured, dissected and compressed.

And they will become obsolete.

But the things that remain, the things we trust, have permanence because there is a built-in truth that we can feel and hear — a quality that is not formulaic.

It's the smell, crackle and spark of authenticity. It's the reason we get excited over a new album release by our favorite artist. It's why we use butter and sugar when we bake.

Like generations before us, we know it's good.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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