On Pink Floyd and Scarcity in a Digital World

Having immediate access to everything is better, but my thrilling journey of discovery will never be possible again

I would like to tell you a story, spanning most of my teenage years, when the internet was still an imaginary thing.

It all started one evening, when browsing through FM radio on a small boom box in my bedroom. As soon as I tuned to a random station, I listened this amazingly different song. It kept repeating four notes, creating a dreamy pattern, which I immediately found the best song ever. I listened attentively to the DJ, after the song was over, as he mentioned the name of the band: Pink Floyd. Unfortunately, he didn’t say the name of the song, which was disappointing. I had to find which album that song came from!

This was late 1988 and A Momentary Lapse of Reason had been released the previous year. I went to a local record store and said “I want to buy a Pink Floyd album”. “Sure, which one?” the guy asked. I had no idea. “The last one?” he said, as he handed it over to me. I looked at the great photo on the cover, found that it was dreamy enough like the song I had heard the day before, and said “Sure, this should be it!” I went back home, put in on my dad’s turntable and started listening to it. The song I wanted was not there. And the whole album was nice, but not great. Back to square one.

Shortly after, the band released Delicate Sound of Thunder, a live double album. I asked my parents if I could get it for Christmas and, a few weeks later, I was excitedly unwrapping it from under the tree and quickly placing it on the turntable. There it was! The first song on the album… THAT song! “Shine On You Crazy Diamond…” I finally found it!

Being a live album, I discovered other great songs from other albums. “One Of These Days,” “Us and Them,” “Money,” and that amazingly surreal guitar solo on “Comfortably Numb.” Wow! There was so much Pink Floyd material out there to discover!

Coincidentally, around the same time, I was browsing a bookstore when I found a book about the story of Pink Floyd. I bought it immediately and read it dozens of times. I became familiar with the earlier years, the genius and influence of Syd Barrett, the gigs at a place called UFO in London, Syd’s issues with LSD, David Gilmour joining the band, Roger Waters later becoming the new leader, the internal conflicts that came after, all the great records released over the years. That book was the stepping-stone I needed to learn about all their discography. What followed were many years of buying more records, borrowing others from friends, recording mix tapes and obsessively recording everything I could find on TV regarding Pink Floyd. Remember that TV broadcast from Venice? The first time I saw them playing live.

Another thing that book mentioned was a video tape from this unique live performance with no audience, done in the middle of the Pompeii ruins. I wanted to watch that! I went to all music stores in my hometown but not one had that concert. In fact, I only managed to buy that VHS tape almost 10 years after, when I first visited London. I was thrilled! And yes, it was indeed a piece of art. Amazing music, scenery and photography.

Why am I telling you all this?

From the moment when I first heard that song on the radio, to knowing everything there is to know about the band and finding that Live in Pompeii VHS tape, it took about 12 years.

How long do you think it would take now? If I were a teenager now, living in 2015, how long would it take to know the name of that song (Shazam), buy the album (iTunes), listen to the band’s discography (Spotify), watch a concert (YouTube), learn about their story (Wikipedia) and buy the Live in Pompeii DVD (Amazon)? One day. Maybe two.

While most of you will probably think that the current state of things is much better, with immediate access to all this content and information, I cannot stop thinking that my thrilling discovery journey will never be possible again. I just had my first baby 6 weeks ago (hence why I’m writing this at 4am) and keep thinking what could replace this experience for him?

And you can apply this story to how you felt discovering your favorite band, writer or director.

It is definitely great that we now have access to a lot of content, via download or streaming, effortlessly and immediately. I know more music and movies than I could ever have imagined when I was a teenager. But at the same time… isn’t scarcity good? Teenagers these days will never feel the pure joy I felt when I found that book, held The Dark Side Of The Moon vinyl on my hands for the first time, or finally found that Pompeii concert.

PS: This reminds me of a very interesting discussion I recently had online, about the Hollywood TV & Film distribution model. One could argue that, for different reasons, Hollywood somehow managed to keep this scarcity concept, although for shorter periods of time, by preventing content from being available everywhere, all the time. The same didn’t happen with the Music industry, as we all know. Even though piracy is much easier with music than with video, following the Hollywood model and adopting different release windows, could potentially be a way to not only satisfy labels and above all artists, while at the same time reinstating some of this scarcity. But that’s another story, for another time.

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