Give It Up, Turn It Loose

One of my earliest memories goes back to when I was just 3 years old. My mother was attending Northeastern University and we were living on Rutland Avenue near the old Eggleston Street T station -- a Boston ghetto-relic no longer in existence.

I would get my Lincoln Log canisters, turn them upside down and stack them on milk crates lined up in a semi-circle around me. In between my make-shift bass drums I would set up other toys that offered a semi-hollow drum sound or metallic high-hat symbol sound when I banged on it with wooden spoons or whatever other imitation drumstick my mother would allow me to use.

Then I would ask my father to put on one of his Donald Byrd records. And for what seemed like hours, I would bang on my "drum set," imagining I was the rhythm section of Byrd's band.

So you see, I've been drawn to drum beats soaked in blues and gospel chords since back when Gerald Ford was in office. The O'Jays were dropping hits like "Backstabbers" and Sly Stone was funking it up with "There's A Riot Goin' On."

Culturally speaking, I'm a soul-child, part of the funk-sampling generation that created hip-hop and break-dancing. And like my forbears, I've seen yet another creation of the black music tradition become a money-making product sold to millions of aspiring white hipsters in which the music is first ridiculed by critics and then recognized the world over as the cutting edge of popular music.

Thanks to emotionally significant events like proms, wedding receptions, family reunions, broken-hearted sorrows and the frustrating realization that life isn't fair, music is a crucial component of psychological survival for many.

Music is like food or sunshine; in solitary and lonely moments it can be your own private Freudian psychoanalyst, exploring and expressing the inner parts of the subconscious self in an atmosphere where there's no judgment, only discernment.

So what's the point of this mini-musical memoir on a page with political opinions? Have you heard about the recording industry looking for new ways to stop music-lovers from downloading free songs from the Internet? (http://www.netfreedom.org/news.asp?item=136).

I don't think it's right to use other people's copyrighted material to make money for yourself. But in the name of freedom, I hope the lawsuits against music free(down)loaders being pursued by industry execs reaches the Supreme Court and fails.

But in the interest of business, here's a few PR suggestions and observations for music industry CEOs to consider.

First, recognize that your problem is a self-inflicted one, thanks to shows like "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" that publicly flaunt the stacks of cash being made by pop singers and record industry executives. You get no sympathy from ordinary Americans struggling to make a living. So, the we're-being-robbed argument doesn't go over well.

It also doesn't help that CDs cost anywhere from $16 to $20 a pop at a time when consumers are complaining that most of these hyped-up superstars are so predictably pre-packaged that you'd be lucky to find three good songs on a 17-track CD.

If you want to fatten your pockets even more, then come up with a better product, like including a DVD with several of the artist's music videos.

Another reason it's hard to swallow the you're-taking-food-out-of-my-mouth industry line is because I've made mixed CDs using downloaded songs or a CD burner and more than few times a friend of mine will hear it in my car or house and ask: "Who's that?" and then go out and buy the CD.

How come they've never heard of so many of these gifted young artists out here? Because commercial radio DJ's are made to play the same freakin' songs over and over and over again -- on the radio, in dance halls, and on video shows.

Complaining about how much money is being lost because of Internet downloading is a little like me threatening to sue "intellectual property" thieves who read this column for free in a newspaper left behind in some cafe or library.

If you make music less accessible to the people, the art will die. Or to put it in the immortal words of the godfather of soul: "Give It Up, Turn It Loose."

Sean Gonsalves is a syndicated columnist. E-mail him at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com.

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