Tag Archives: euphemism

Euphemistically Stealing

Yet another article was posted to NPR’s All Songs Considered blog Saturday morning concerning iTunes in the Cloud, specifically referencing Bob Boilen‘s transition. I’ve enjoyed reading the occasional updates on this, as I’m about to join iTunes Match myself. While I’ll continue to invest in physical copies and (paid) digital content, I’m augmenting my library with it. (As opposed to “making the switch” – I’m not trading one for the other.) I think it’ll be a great help while teaching, especially during my month-long study abroad program in Austria.

This article, however, was not by Bob but an intern, Emily White. In her article, titled “I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With,” she made the decent point of iTunes Match not being a big deal because her whole library is already digital. Therefore, the transition from physical to digital is non-existent.

Beyond that, I was caught up in the twisted logic behind her music library: “I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs. […] But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs.” At this point, Ms. White lists euphemism for how she “legally” acquired the rest of those albums:

• Kazaa (the only “illegal” ones)
• Gifts (no problem there, of course)
• “Swapped hundreds of mix CDs” (um…)
• A 15GB “deposit” onto her iPod (*raises eyebrow*)
• “I spent hours on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop…” (what?!)

That’s a list of euphemisms if I’ve ever seen one. “Words that hide the truth” were George Carlin’s greatest linguistic enemy (see my thoughts on him and his rant here), and also one of mine. The above list begets: “As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. […] But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” But she would like to pay for Spotify, hoping that the company one day includes a much better royalty payment system than its current iteration.


Really? I’ll not waste too much time re-treading every reason why I believe it’s important to pay for what you like, since regular readers of this blog probably know my stance well. I see and hear the “convenience” trope quite a bit, but rarely does it answer the question of how the fan will actually pay for the music. And the fact that this was so proudly and publicly written by an intern at NPR Music – a really solid source for a whole variety of music and music news – further flabbergasts me. “Hey, musician! Come play our Tiny Desk series. Don’t mind our employees that don’t financially support your primary creative mode of expression. Got any free schwag for them?” I was no fan of Bob’s article about concert volume – though it inspired me to write this post on noise protection – but at least he financially supports the art he loves.

Swapping mixed CDs and “ripping” music is still stealing. Yes, stealing is a harsh word. But let’s avoid the “soft language” (as Carlin put it), and opt for the “simple, honest, direct language.” In music school, I knew a bunch of classmates who would spend hours at the library ripping albums to their computers. Because music is an aural art, the listener isn’t physically touching the music while he or she listens. But if it were a book instead of a symphony it’d be a different story. Imagine walking into an English major’s home or office and seeing their personal “library” of thousands of photocopied books in 3-ring binders. Impressive? Meh, didn’t think so. Yes, check out an album or ten from the library. But if you like, get your own copy. Really, it’s not that hard.

Instead of going deep with artists or genres, I’ve heard many people refer to their music collections in terms of bytes. “Yeah, man, I have 20GB of jazz.” Cool. Have you listened to it all or know it well? Or did you get a 15GB deposit too? While I don’t like to part with my money, I enjoy paying because I then have a vested interest in the music. I paid for it, therefore I’m damn well going to listen to it. Even if it’s a blind purchase I end up disliking (which rarely happens), I’ll give it a couple good listens just to be sure. And if I like it, then it’s mine and I’m happy to have it. I earned that money, therefore earning that album or box set, and I’m going to take it in. It’s also why I don’t like to buy too many albums too fast. While I have a one album per week average, I’ve ended up recently falling behind on my listening because I’ve gotten ahead of myself with my purchases. Six new albums in the last couple weeks means that I just today listened to Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium, an album I bought two weeks ago. (It got lost in the shuffle.) When I say I have 1,XXX albums, trust me that I’ve listened to them all.

Beyond my ownership of the content, I want to support the musicians behind all of these recordings. Yes, Apple and the various record companies take a big chunk of change. I understand that, and don’t much agree with the ratio. This is where I empathize somewhat with Emily’s attitudes toward Spotify. But there are also other models. Louis CK wasn’t the first to totally manage the distribution of his content. Radiohead beat him to the punch with In Rainbows and then King of Limbs. And there were others before that. Yes, Metallica has more money collectively than they know what to do with. But what about those thousands of other lesser-known and unknown musicians out there doing the nitty-gritty on the road and at the local level?

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

I get it. People will steal music. It’s now part of the culture. But you’d think that, at the very least, musicians and those in the industry would perhaps participate in this tricky bit of commerce.

Pay for what you like. And, to NPR Music: get it together.


George Carlin’s birthday was a little over one week ago. He would have been 74. Now, I strive to keep this a music-oriented blog despite my other deep interests (politics/current events and stand-up comedy). However, Carlin is worth mentioning here because he’s artistically relevant to one of this blog’s recurring topics: aesthetic authenticity.

Without getting too deep into it, I consider him to be one of the greatest minds and voices of the twentieth century. Seriously. (I have all of the HBO specials and most of the albums to prove it. 🙂 ) Yes, he was “a comic.” But he was also so much more. Though there were strains of it when we started out in the 50s, eventually his material was more akin to philosophical, linguistic, satirical, and political essays peppered with jokes, as opposed to a series of one-liners mixed in with anecdotes. It didn’t matter whether or not you agreed with his point of view; the goal was to open the listener’s mind to new ways of analyzing topics or issues. This is something he was very consciously aware of, as evidenced in this interview, during which he says he eventually considered himself an essayist who performed.

Last year I read Last Words (his autobiography, published posthumously), and was struck by just how obsessed he was throughout his career with identifying and honing what he called “my authentic voice.” This of course is arguably the primary dilemma for an artist – truly expressing oneself. Whether you’re a fan or not, this book serves as a masterclass of sorts in authenticity. In case you’re unfamiliar, Carlin started out as a very straight-laced, mainstream, and commercially successful act in the 1950s.The 70s, however, saw Carlin reintroduce himself as the real George: hippie, counter-culture provocateur, and social critic. Two excerpts from the cleverly-titled chapter “The Long Epiphany” wonderfully distill this process:

1. “But mainly I had to explain myself to me. What had been pulling at me all this time, dragging me away from the old approach and toward the new, was the lack of my voice in my work. The absence of me in my act. I would say, ‘I wasn’t in my act. I was all these other people.’ And I would introduce them all, the old familiar characters, one by one, to make the point.” (p. 146)

2. “I would no longer deal with subjects that were expected of me, in ways which had been determined by others. I would determine the ways. My own experiences would be the subject. I went into myself, I discovered my own voice and I found it authentic. So, apparently, did the audiences in the coffeehouses I was now playing. And while I was back to making no money, when they laughed now it felt great. I was getting votes of confidence for the path I had taken. They were reaffirming something that I felt and now was able to think through as well as feel. It meant I was right. Which strengthened my resolve to carry this through.” (p. 152)

[Note: Imagine my surprise, and joy, in reading Dave Liebman’s endorsement of this book for similar reasons in his May newsletter a few weeks ago.]

These words ring as true for me now as they did upon first read. It’s great – necessary – to have influences, and it’s equally important to emulate them. However, eventually one must move beyond his/her influences and training to develop the inner voice that’s dying to get out. I implied this in an earlier post, and hope to delve deeper into the topic at some point. For now, though, I simply want to highlight George…

I was fortunate to see Carlin perform live three times. It was very interesting for me, both as a fan and as a performer, because all three performances were in preparation for what became his final HBO special, It’s Bad For Ya (2008). For context, the actual special was recorded March 1, 2008. The performances I saw were as follows: January 2007 (Ann Arbor, MI), July 2007 (Las Vegas, NV), March 2008 (East Lansing, MI). I note this because I was able to see the material develop from scattered notes to a scripted, seamless 60+ minute performance. It was a tremendous peek into Carlin’s creative process. Some highlights:
January 2007: He informally took the stage with a stack of loose notes and papers and prefaced this show with (I’m paraphrasing): “You’ll have to excuse me, as this won’t be like the shows you’re used to seeing on HBO and hearing on record. I have a whole new hour of material, in no particular order, and I don’t know just how any of them work just yet. This is more of a test drive, but I promise you’ll laugh.” AND I DID! That night was one of the hardest I’ve ever laughed. But he was true to his word – it was more akin to alternative comedy than Carlin’s traditional style of rapid-fire storytelling and joke-telling. He would take a paper from his stack, remind himself of the joke/outline, extemporize, then move on to the next note.
July 2007: No notes; a cold open with no disclaimer. Six months later, the material was now in its third or fourth draft. You could tell that there was a set order and that he was working out the rhythm. Also, a number of topics were dropped, while a few new ones had been incorporated. Just as funny. 🙂
March 2008: By this time, the HBO special had been taped/aired (live). Carlin’s trademark style had returned, and the show was by then a well-oiled machine. The material’s order had once again been changed, but the overall content remained unchanged. Final draft, no further revision. Vintage GC.

So, a few nuggets of GC info and memories. To close, I’d like to highlight arguably my favorite Carlin essay (as I’m sure he considered it). It addresses his favorite topic: language. Specifically, it’s an all-out assault on one of his worst enemies: euphemisms. Part of his obsession with language was that because we think in language, then the better and clearer we use language the better we can convey our thoughts. I’ve gone through it probably 100 times (the live performance from 1990’s Doin’ It Again is priceless) and find it just as funny and thought-provoking as the first.

George Carlin: Euphemistic Language

*Update*: Here’s the live version form Doin’ It Again (slightly NSFW):