Rust never sleeps

Rust never sleeps

My patient and considerate son-in-law, Alex, had had just about enough of helping me carry seemingly countless and too-heavy crates of records from the U-Haul into the long-term storage facility, their home for the next 10 months or so.

“Have you not heard of Spotify?” he half-joked as he lugged another crate.

Sure I’ve heard of Spotify. I even signed up for a subscription so I could trade playlists with our daughter who lives out in Tucson. It was a technological leap for me – I’ve listened to my music primarily on vinyl since the days of buying 44-cent albums at Newberry’s on Main Street. I still don’t quite grasp the concept of just picking songs out of some infinite digital library and, for lack of a better word, borrowing them out of thin air. And the thought of some algorithm creating a playlist FOR me is just bonkers.

We’ve all heard of Spotify by now, though, after professional curmudgeon Neil Young delivered his “either he goes or I go” ultimatum over their popular podcaster Joe Rogan and his tendencies to amplify the voices of those who aren’t necessarily following the science when it comes to all things COVID. A few other top-name musicians followed suit, and so did I. We curmudgeons have to stick together.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been a fan of his for 50 years now, but I believe Neil when he says he’s not trying to censor Spotify, Joe Rogan, or anyone else. He had some power in the marketplace and he chose to use it to make his voice heard. I chose to vote with my wallet and will find another way to share music with my daughter in Tucson.

It sounds to me like Spotify shrugged at first and said, “Well, Neil, we hate to see you go, but we paid this Rogan guy $100 million so, see ya bye. This is a business.” Within a week’s time, though, Spotify faced some big-time backlash which grew exponentially when recordings surfaced of Rogan using racist epithets and the business scoured its Rogan library of some 100 old episodes. Then they promised to match the $100 million they spent on him to “underheard voices” or some such corporate gobbledygook that they think will get them out of this mess.

To those bemoaning Spotify’s focus on podcasts and “content” rather than music, remember, the platform is simply following the revenue trail the same way the music business has always followed the revenue trail. This is not new. Rarely in history has there been artistic merit underpinning the music industry and if it’s podcasts that bring in the bucks, podcasts drive the bus.

One could argue that Neil Young’s influence has long expired and that it’s guys like Joe Rogan who have the proverbial floor these days. What was the idiotic derisive phrase that was popular for a couple of months a few years ago? “OK, Boomer?” So there’s that. On the other hand, though, an old guy played the cards he has in his hand and put the spotlight on something that was important to him in a fully matter-of-fact way. It wasn’t grandstanding, it was just, well, business.

We’ve turned it into grandstanding, though – Neil’s fans on one side, Joe’s on the other. Everyone suffering from Instant Expert Syndrome – because we read it once, we’re experts and by golly you’re wrong and stupid if you don’t agree with everything I just spewed back from what I read. Of course, if that same site where I read the first thing comes out later and publishes something that’s contrary or updated, then that site that we trusted two weeks ago now is full of baloney and not to be trusted.

That’s the level of discourse we get these days. Lots of shouty people hiding behind the anonymity of comment pages where they are the expert because they have a keyboard and they’re going to use it.

It’s corrosive. And as Neil Young so famously said, “rust never sleeps.”

— Ted Potrikus

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