Ben Ward

At the age of sixteen


At the age of sixteen, or maybe fifteen, my Dad took me to my first gig. I’m aware that isn’t a very cool age to see your first show (my brother, Josh, was already playing gigs at fourteen…), but that’s irrelevant. We saw Super Furry Animals play Cambridge Corn Exchange. I am supremely blessed to have a father so passionate about music that the first time I heard Super Furry Animal’s ‘Radiator’ and Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ in our household it was from the copies that belonged to him, that (so the story goes) after my birth I was brought home, sat (perched) in front of a loudspeaker and played The Clash (‘London’s Calling’, I think), and that, as an otherwise very quiet teenager, I was taken to this first show to see a magnificent band. If you’ve ever had a piece of music recommended to you by me (and enjoyed it), it’s this moment in my life that it stems from.

This tour was to promote SFA’s then about-to-be-released album ‘Guerilla’. They played a song ‘Somethings Come From Nothing’, an incredible, long, mostly-instrumental bleepy-indie masterpiece (that ends with steel drums, natch.) I remember, as it was still going on turning to Dad, and we just smiled at one another. That gig, that show, and that song in particular, was absolutely formative of me and my attitude to the arts and to music in particular. At first, that came out as Super Furry Animals obsession, then other bands, moving as a teenager does between individual bands with short-lived passions. (I never got into band rivalries, even before this; after I was given a CD player at age twelve, the first CDs I purchased were Blur’s ‘Parklife’ and Oasis ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory’. I kinda skipped the Britpop war. Although, I think I played Oasis first.)

Obsession led to snobbery, of course. I remain deeply embarrassed and apologetic toward my friend Sarah, with whom I once posited Gomez’s ‘Liquid Skin’ record was unarguably better than her Savage Garden record because it features (a still rather magnificent) guitar trio, and that beat out all of her claims based around some supposedly excellent guitar solo. I argued music with maths, bitches. (Seriously, I’m really sorry. Although, I do still think Savage Garden were a quite terrible band.)

When you go through this initial rush; this initial desire to find and absorb new music, to get it under your skin and have it change you, there is a total desire to own the music. In a family of six, where music was acquired exclusively on compact disc (with a ‘c’, Americans), that led to strange emotional conflict.

Super Furry Animal’s ‘Guerilla’ record is their first that I regard as ‘my own’, and is a biased favourite, because it was the first of theirs that I heard, for the first time, on my own. I own that listening experience, I didn’t half-hear it played in the background by someone else, I put it on. The disc itself belonged, again, to my father, but it spent much of its time in my possession (and, later, in the possession of my brother Nathan, who would borrow CDs and never give them back.) After that though, when Dad would buy a CD that I was also interested in, I’d feel a pang of remorse that he owned it, rather than me. It wasn’t about competition, or being cooler, it was about an attachment to the record.

Buying physical records provides that. Holding it in your hands. No-one has ever understood a CD in terms of a transport medium with an attached license agreement for personal performance. You buy a record and you own it.

I don’t entirely know how this applies to the digital age. Sharing music between disparate people and friends has become trivial, and there’s not even an implication of ‘owning’ a handful of MP3s that a friend sends you, rather than a complete, ‘Track 1’ through ‘Track 12’ ordered collection. But I’m interested in paying for music. The family scenario seems broken now. I could buy the new album by the Super Furry Animals equivalent of our day (erm… Foals? Sure, let’s go with Foals…), but it’s in my iTunes library, inside my user account on my computer. My hypothetical son can’t just sneak into my hypothetical living room and take it to listen to. As far as computers are concerned and permissioned, that record doesn’t even exist to him. His hypothetical younger brother can’t later steal it from him, either. Maybe that’s a feature.

I want boys, by the way. Girls seem complicated.

I love physical media. I buy most of my music on vinyl now (it comes with a download code to get the digital copy.) If I can’t find that, I’ll get it from iTunes and Amazon. If it’s a record I don’t care much about, I’ll forgo the physical copy, too. I like that because it’s physical, it’s available for someone else close to me to be exposed to, and to have their own personal, musical experiences with.

I don’t know if it’s just that few people care about this feature of art, or if the ownership attachment of music has been replaced by a different emotion, or a different object, or if actually younger people are able to feel like they really ‘own’ these fragile virtual music items (they’ve never had a hard-drive crash, I guess.) I am, however, unwilling to give it up for myself.

All that said, if my hypothetical son takes my very real Super Furry Animals ‘The Man Don’t Give a Fuck’ special edition and scratches it, I’m going to be pissed, and he’s going to his hypothetical room for a week.

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