Joe Sparrow : Gifting Music

One of the wonderful things about my life over the last few years is the number of fascinating people I’ve been lucky enough to count as new friends. Among them are Taylor, Kaitlyn and Michelle, three genuinely wonderful people who I kind of view as one three-pronged, fun-fuelled entity, as I only ever meet them in person all at once.

Being thrusting young futuristas, we keep in touch via social media, mainly.

This morning I replied to one of Taylor’s tweets while I was brushing my teeth*, pressed play on my iPod, and jumped into the shower. The song playing was Don’t Fight It, Feel It.

Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is one of the half-dozen albums I’d sling in the life-raft if I was to be stranded on a desert island. It is perfect in a thousand ways, of which follow just three: the wild variety of the songs on the album is awe-inspiring, the euphoria contained within them makes my skin prickle, and the simultaneous timeless/time-capsule nature of it is almost unique.

It’s an album that I always push on other people: try it, you’ll love it, you won’t guess what will happen next, but you’ll love what does. It’s perfect for both late nights and early mornings, for fuelling the rush before you go out and to nurture the comedown when you get back home afterwards.

Covered in suds, and with skin prickling, I decided, in a fit of uncharacteristic generosity, that I’d gift the LP to Taylor, Kaitlyn and Michelle. They’d love everything about it. Even better, they may never have heard it, and what a wonderful thing it would be to hear it for the first time.

But, wait: how do I give someone an album now? A really wonderful one? This is something I hadn’t really thought about before. Giving is a beautiful thing — so how does this work with music today?

The quandary:

  • I can’t send them CDs — I may as well send an eight-track tape and a spidery, paranoid note written in green biro;
  • A 12” record is no good either — I don’t think any of them have a record player (and don’t be fooled: most people don’t), and anyway, I’m not buying into the suspiciously publicised (and priced) fetishism of vinyl;
  • The idea of sending a download code is gross, and offers as much appeal as receiving a birthday voucher for a clothes store you hate: it’ll do the job, but making use of it will be a wholly joyless experience;
  • You can’t gift a Spotify stream.
  • An email containing a link to a torrent stream may as well sign off “with love and odour from my parent’s basement.” 
  • A Dropbox link to the files feels clinical, cold, industry.

The transference of music from the physical to the ephemeral is absolutely fine by me: the awful cabal of the record industry has withered, and music will never again be tied down to a silly disc. Hooray, etc.

But tactile interactions count for something, and while for most of the time I am totally happy with music’s physicality extending no further than sound-waves themselves, occasionally, well… there’s an un-human gap in functionality.

I recently visited a clothes shop that I love, and bought a new coat and shirt. I was really pleased. At the till, I remembered a good friend in the USA who likes the clothing label too, so I bought him a smart enamel badge, slipped it in an envelope, and posted it to him.

It made him happy, it made me happy, and an object had moved between us.

As for Taylor, Kaitlyn and Michelle? Well, they will need to go without. I ended up stuck and frustrated. Life’s infuriating truism is that so much good stuff is accompanied by a negative — the slice of chocolate cake that goes straight to your hips or the beautiful person with nothing interesting to say.

Maybe this universal dichotomy accounts for music’s ephemerality. Maybe we don’t get to enjoy gifting it, because this thing — so wonderful you want to own it and control it — cannot be owned or controlled.

That might be ultimately disappointing – but still makes more sense than paying £23 for a heavyweight gatefold vinyl pressing.


*It later transpired that I am still unable to determine nuance in 140 characters and got the wrong end of the stick, completely missing a joke, and so my replies became a death spiral of minor online humiliation. As always, a reminder from our social gods: Never Tweet.