Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The first day of the rest of our life...

Another day, another cultural shit-storm of confused ideologies and mixed up, nostalgic nonsense. This morning we woke up to a life without HMV, and while I know plenty of people whose work, and by extension life in general, will be adversely affected by this sudden commercial black hole, I won't be mourning the loss. There are some consequences of HMV's closing that will be profound, not least of which will be the impact on bands at a certain level who might be looking at an immediate future in which a retailer that accounted for anywhere between 20% and 60% of their record sales is no more. This is a real worry for those artists, and not to be dismissed out of hand. The idea that one can genuinely make a living out of creating art is a beautiful one and a cultural ideal to be guarded, but to mistakenly ally a capitalist monolith like HMV to such lofty and noble heights is folly.
This is where so many people's reactions today appear confused and muddled. Firstly they are conflating commerce and culture. HMV was a huge, faceless corporate chain. It was Costa, Tesco, Superdrug. I can just about understand the nostalgia people feel about small, independent shops. I love book shops, comic shops, little craft shops and record shops. But they are just shops, in the final reckoning. And even these small, independent entities have nothing in common with HMV. In fact the reason there is so much misplaced nostalgia out there for the passing of this monstrous juggernaut is an irony in itself, an irony built on the fact that over the last twenty years the HMV chain marched across British high streets chewing up and spitting out the independent record shops that formerly proliferated in just about very town of reasonable size. Oven Ready Records in Aylesbury was ours, but if you were any younger than about 26 today, you wouldn't recall it. HMV was your only contact with record buying, and a shallow, pale approximation of record buying it was too.
An appropriate phrase here is hoisted by your own petard. HMV shat on plenty of smaller retailers without a second thought, and the labels and distributors snuggled up in bed with them and lazily accepted the drips from the table. They are all culpable today and guess what? They are the flabby dinosaurs waking up to a new dawn and wailing about it. But the new model rolls out today, and all those sales reps and sales managers will have to start getting back to work to find those missing sales. Good. Good for the artists that they can't cosy up to the shitheads anymore. Good for the labels that they'll need to work fewer, better artists. And good for the distributors that they'll need to help out the smaller shops, cut their own slice of the cake a bit smaller and eat less of it.
No-one will stop making ART because of today's news. That is a fact. There might be people who have to make changes, to tighten belts or maybe lose their jobs, people who will experience sorrow because of it, and hardship. But that is the way of things anyway, and HMV's closure is not any kind of cultural nadir. It is the monster eating its baby, the necessary death of the castrated father. And I will not mourn it.