Don Was On iTunes’ Death of Liner Notes


Newest blogger – you may
have heard of him – for Detroit
Metro Times weighs in on a heavy subject.


By Fred Mills


I forgot who said it, but sometime in the ‘90s, I think,
there was a quote from a musician in which he talked about that vanishing breed
known as the album sleeve, what with the near-ubiquity of CDs and their tiny
booklets. It went something like, “As a kid, I would stare at the LP artwork,
turning it over and over in my hands, looking at the front and the back, and if
it was a gatefold sleeve, even better, reading the liner notes, trying to
imagine who this band was and what they were all about from the images and the
words as well as from the actual music.” (He probably commented how it was
easier to clean your weed on an album cover than a CD jewel box too, but I


More recently, some pointy-headed pundit – okay, it was me – made a similar observation, this
time lamenting the advent of the digital download era. “You can’t clutch an MP3
or a PDF to your chest, that’s for sure,” quoth I.


Echoes of all this and more arrived this week courtesy
legendary producer and Was (Not Was) co-mainman Don Was, who debuted as a
blogger for Detroit
weekly Metro Times in fine style. For
his initial installment of “Star Traction,”
Was muses on the ubiquity if iTunes
and took the digital behemoth to task for selling music minus the context the
music deserves, and needs.


“These days,” writes Was, “the nation’s largest retailer of
music – the iTunes store – has essentially eliminated credits, liner notes and
printed lyrics from their digital packaging.  I’m at a loss to explain
Apple’s ambivalence about upholding the quality and value of the product that
has fueled the success of their hardware.”


Anybody who has taken the download plunge knows exactly what
Was is talking about, and for those who don’t get where he’s coming from, he talks about buying Freak Out by the Mothers of Invention back in 1966, and in addition
to being suitably wowed by the far-out music, he was transfixed by the LP’s
sleeve (gatefold, natch) which bore copious liners penned by Zappa – liner notes
that, according to Was, “changed my life.”


Was: “In a subsequent interview, Frank said that the Freak
album package was designed to be ‘as accessible as possible to the
people who wanted to take the time to make it accessible. That list of names in
there, if anybody were to research it, would probably help them a great deal.’
He was right: The first time I heard of Charles Ives, Willie Dixon, Captain
Beefheart, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Eric Dolphy was when I read that list of
150 random notables (titled People Who Have Contributed Materially in Many
Ways to Make Our Music What it Is – Please Do Not Hold it Against Them


“Frank Zappa schooled us in counter-culture history, gave
lost teenagers an identity along with a mythology and provided four
sides of groundbreaking rock ‘n’ roll for five bucks! Some 44 years later, I’m
still a fan – that’s what the music business is about.”


Boy howdy to that. And he’s right – that IS what the music
business is about. Creating fans (by extension, loyal customers), spinning
myths while also spinning music, creating alternate realities that somehow made
this reality a little bit easier to


Was goes on to meditate on how things got to this point, and
in fairness to iTunes, he doesn’t lay all the blame at their doorstep. He even
cops to having taken a laissez faire attitude himself in treating iTunes with “kid gloves” to date in the interest
of selling music in the modern era, despite harboring misgivings all along, as
did many of us, that something was going missing.




“Ten billion downloads later, it’s time for everyone  –
Apple, the record labels, artists, ASCAP, BMI, the Federation of
Musicians,  SAG , the recording academy, music publishers – to ante up and
show more respect for music fans  by insisting on providing them with the complete experience of recorded music.  A great, timeless album is more than just
an entertainment app.”


Read the Was editorial, and then maybe you’ll feel inspired
to add your voice to the chorus.


Amen, brother Don.


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