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Koos Kombuis

The day the music died

2013-03-06 16:15
Without us noticing it, it so happens that for the most part, our lives revolve around the casual friends or acquaintances we see every day.

We don't know these people very well, yet they provide a sense of comfortable predictability to our routine. Such as the friendly girl at our local garage store where I buy my daily newspaper.

Or the old lady behind the counter of my favourite second-hand bookstore. Or the next door neighbour, a retired man who is forever pottering around in his front garden, and who waves at me when I drive past.

One such bit player in my life was the owner of a CD-selling business, The CD Emporium, in our local strip mall. It was a small shop with a big name.

It was also a friendly place where I felt free to walk in and either browse around or strike up a conversation. Over time, Mike Pearlson became a part of the landscape of my daily life, and a very pleasant part of it too. It was kind of reassuring to rush past the front door of The CD Emporium and see Mike sitting behind the counter, a peaceful expression on his face, and some piece of classical music blasting through the speakers.

This was clearly a man who had achieved the supreme state of job satisfaction. His shop was always in an impeccable state. Mike was always surrounded by an aura of timeless grace. He made me feel as if I lived in a small town in which everybody knew each other, and in which no-one meant each other any harm.

Over time, it never occurred to me that there might have been something subtly wrong with this picture. If I had stopped to consider, it should have bothered me that, during the last few years, Mike was always alone in the shop. Where were the customers? If I had stopped to look more closely, I would have noticed that, during the last week or two of its existence, there was a little poster on the door with the scrawled message "CLOSING DOWN SALE".

The first time I realized something was amiss was when I walked past The CD Emporium on the first of March and saw that the shelves were inexplicably empty. Alarm bells started ringing in my head. That was when I noticed, for the first time, the sign on the door which had probably been there for a while. That was also when I spotted the hunched figure of Mike Pearlson coming around the counter, pushing a large trolley filled with unsold stock. There was an expression on his face I had never seen before.

"Are you moving your shop somewhere else, Mike? Where are you going?"

He looked me straight in the eyes, made a sign with his finger across his neck, and just said: "No. I’m not going anywhere else. I'm just going."

Horror filled me. This guy was too young to retire! What was going on here? He answered my unspoken question with a single sentence. "No-one’s buying CD’s any more," he said simply.

"The Internet?" I asked, and he nodded.

Stories flashed through my mind, snippets of information I had received but not had time to digest. Such as the news of the biggest chain of CD retailers in England unexpectedly going bust.

I remembered the huge Mega-Store on the Picadilly Circle where I used to go browsing, where one could track down literally anything you looked for. That store was no more. And now the changing face of the music industry had also bankrupted Mike's little shop.

I felt as if I was standing on the precipice between the old and the new. What other businesses would soon be extinct because of new buying patterns? Travel agencies? Sound studio's? Booksellers?

I remember seeing my twelve-year old son reading Life of Pi on his Kindle late at night on a weekend.

"Don’t you ever read ordinary books any more?" I asked him.

"Yes, I do," he said, "but there's one little problem."

"What's that?"

"When I see a word I don't know, and I press my finger on it, the meaning doesn't jump out of the paper," he said, with a guilty little smile.

That, in a nutshell, is why guys like Mike Pearlson are going bust. There are easier ways of buying music. People don’t feel like stretching their legs and walking to the strip mall, browse around in a CD store, perhaps have a coffee outside in the sunshine at the coffee-shop nearby before picking up a paperback to read, or just the newspaper, and going home. They can get all that stuff without lifting a finger.

But is it still the same? In a way, yes. And in a way, no. In a way, everything has changed.

But the bottom line is this: I simply can't imagine walking past that shop without seeing Mike Pearlson's satisfied and happy face behind the counter of his own proud little empire of beautiful sounds. Without The CD Emporium, life will simply never be quite the same.

Read more on:    books  |  music

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