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Streaming Media
The Editor's Spin: A Few Minutes With...
Posted Jan 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

It was nice to see Andy Rooney back in the national spotlight a few weeks back, in spite of the regrettable remark that got him there. I've always liked Andy, since way back in the '70s when I joined the rest of America watching 60 Minutes bridge the gap between football and All in the Family. It never mattered much to me whether I agreed with Rooney or not; I just liked the way he picked at things. I remember one bit he did a few weeks before the 1980 elections on the differences between Republicans and Democrats, and how to tell which one you were. This was political commentary an eleven-year-old could sink his teeth into: Republicans roll the toothpaste tube as they use it; democrats squeeze from the top. Republicans snift brandy; Democrats drink beer. Best of all was his closing zinger: If you still don't know what you are, you're probably a Democrat. And so I've remained.

I've never been sure whether Andy was a Republican or Democrat, but I always appreciated his willingness to make fun of both parties, and folks on both sides of any issue. Of course, I know perfectly well that Andy suffers from the puerile sexism of so many men of his generation, and that's what motivated his recent infamous remark about women sideline reporters at NFL games. But I always thought I'd enjoy having a few minutes each week to purvey my own brand of Rooney-esque, curmudgeonly carping about all the stuff that sticks in my craw. I even came up with a name for it. Instead of "A Few Minutes With…", I'd call it, "…and My Craw is Full."

That said, curmudgeonly carping isn't really my job here, although it often seems that it's most of what I do in this column. So to extend the metaphor, let's imagine my craw were only half-full, and I had as much good to note as bad. Where would we go from here?

Let's start with the ostensible reason for my good mood as the holidays draw nigh: Verbatim's Digital Vinyl CD-R media. They're a gift mix-maker's dream. Back in the 4X days, circa 1997, Verbatim made some of the ugliest doggone CD-R media I've ever seen. Remember the white and pink "Data Life Plus" with the blue spots? Too bad I made so many great discs with it—Treatment Bound, a churning Replacements best-of recorded on a Microboards 1-to-1 duplicator comes to mind—I still shudder whenever I decant those discs, even though they still play like champs. But I digress. Digital Vinyl is hands down the coolest media I've ever seen. Each disc looks like a vinyl 45, with a purple, green, or orange "label." There's even a stylus on the inlay card, and—the coup de grace—tangible vinyl-like grooves on the label-side surface. Do great painters feel inspired by a fresh canvas? It hardly seems likely we'd find a parallel in CD-R, but maybe we have.

But on the other side of the coin there's the 10-pack of Memorex DVD-R I just bought. I've burned seven of the discs so far, and the media itself seems tip-top, even if it only works at 1X. But the inlay card—the first thing anyone considering these discs at retail sees—only thickens the smoky haze of the format war. Now, I've been articulating plus/dash/RAM distinctions for writable/rewritable DVD since before anyone outside the Pacific Rim had ever seen a disc, but even I am baffled by the expository text on the card. It reads, in part: "Memorex DVD-R. Write Once DVD-R Disc. For use only with DVD-RW DVD-RAM." Such technical doggerel gives new meaning to "part of the problem;" it's the kind of thing that may necessitate warning labels for DVD media.

Half-full and half-empty… Roxio's recent acquisition of Napster leaves me both fascinated and skeptical. On the one hand, the few morsels of information available at this writing suggest that Roxio has entered into the deal with their usual shrewdness. (Here's a company with a near-impeccable record of wise acquisitions and partnerships.) Note that they acquired all of Napster's assets and none of its current or future liabilities. I know how cautiously and deliberately Roxio moves—after all, they hired a branding consultant to name them when they split off from Adaptec and "purchased a palette" to update their box art—but maybe they should have outsourced some sociological research before bedding down with Napster.

I guess I can admit now that I enjoyed as fruitful a relationship with Napster as anyone, except that most of the new bands I discovered through its filesharing bounty eventually got my money anyway. Most of the rest of the stuff I downloaded consisted of songs I'd already bought in one form or another (either LPs or tapes), or singles for which I'd scoured the earth and still come up empty. (Estate of Little Willie John, if you're reading: I'm sorry I didn't pay for "She Thinks I Still Care," but I swear I spent years trying to buy it legit.)

But my financial relationship to Napster is hardly typical. And that's not even the point—the Gen Y types who made Napster a "One Nation Under a Groove" phenomenon neither used it as a launchpad to CD purchases nor mourned it in quite the same way I did when it folded. Those cavalier collegiates quickly moved on to KaZaA, Gnutella, or any number of identical services, propelled by the same worldwide word of mouth that fueled Napster's meteoric rise.

Maybe I'm missing something—maybe there's some kernel of genius in the Napster engine that its successors lack, and that's the reason for Roxio's interest in it—but I doubt it. Rather, they're banking on the familiarity of the name. And here's why they may regret it: the former Napster Nation knows no brand-name loyalty. It smacks of paying for stuff.

Which is not to say the prospect of Napster rising again won't spark the interest of out-of-step saps like me. Still, Roxio or no Roxio, I suspect our destiny is not to welcome Napster back as a going concern, but rather to remember its heyday through the fond, soft lens of nostalgia.

Those were the days.

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