Willis has been in the news because of his reported discovery that the thousands of dollars worth of music he has bought from iTunes isn’t actually his. Legally, it seems, that music is only borrowed under licence, not owned, and therefore cannot be passed on after his death to his daughters Rumer, Scout and Tallaluh.
I fully empathise with and share the movie star’s pain, as any father would: just imagine the horror of one’s vulnerable kids going out into the world and forming musical tastes entirely at odds with those of their wise, discerning dad!
When my children’s father dies, they’re in for a treat, let me tell you. Among the delights they’ll inherit are my superb vinyl collection – completely unplayed for over a decade owing to the lack of a “turntable” (as we ageing hi-fi buffs used to style such devices: never “record player”) but kept none the less for reasons of sentiment and historical value.
The collection includes: Crosby, Stills Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu, on whose gatefold sleeve many reefers will have been rolled to enhance the experience of hippy anthems such as Country Girl; the classic Focus album, by Dutch one-hit wonders Focus; all the early Genesis albums that I used to ponder in my bed-study at school; and, of course, the entire oeuvre of Supertramp, whose lengthy, pomp-rock intros (Even in the Quietest Moments being my favourite) I recorded for my Walkman so as to psych myself up before cross-country matches.
Not, I doubt, that my ungrateful kids will appreciate any of these nuances. The only fight when the executor of my estate hands over my cherished collection will, I suspect, be the fight (“Bags I not me!”) as to whose job it is to take it to the dump.
Indeed, I don’t just suspect this, I know it for a fact. Already my kids have started defining themselves not so much according to what they like as to what I dislike. Glancing at Boy’s iPod the other day, I noticed that by far the most extensive part of his collection was the large file proudly marked “Dad Hates”. Obviously, it pains me – especially as I’m a rock critic, damn it – that my rubbish offspring won’t have tastes nearly as immaculate or varied as mine, but I accept it as part of the parental deal. My dad never quite persuaded me that Frankie Laine was the last word in cool; my kids, I’m sorry to say, will remain similarly unconvinced by my own musical heroes, such as Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and DJ Shadow.
But this tragic generational divide isn’t the only thing Bruce Willis ought to bear in mind before he embarks on a costly legal action against Apple. Although I totally share his apparent frustration and indignation, I think what Bruce, myself and all fuddy duddies like us may have to accept is that the times they are a changin’ – especially where the concept of musical ownership is concerned.
In our day, it was all very simple: you went out and bought your LP or your eight-track or your cassette or your CD and it was yours to keep for ever. Never once would you have to fear the 3am knock at the door from the copyright people, come to reclaim your scratched edition of Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans. But that was in the days before the internet, when musical artistes (and record companies) could make a more than decent living out of physical sales, which they can’t any more. So now creative types (and the various parasites who depend on them) need to find other ways of financing their efforts – and Apple’s infuriating arrangement regarding iTunes copyright is one of them.
The good news is that our kids and grandkids might find the concept of owning music faintly ridiculous. They’ll be using services such as Spotify to stream music at the click of a button and for next to nothing. They won’t own it, but it’ll be there whenever they want to listen.
I’m not saying I like this idea. Probably as Bruce Willis does, I’d much rather live in a world where we still used vinyl and where none of the technologies since had been invented. But as Die Hard?’s John McClane would no doubt have said, had he been consulted on such matters, a guy’s gotta play the cards he’s dealt: like it or not, we’re in the age of Spotify now, and it’s time old farts such as Bruce and me got with the programme.
As a matter of fact, I’ve already started. Just the other day, I invested in one of those fancy Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin devices and instead of playing CDs I now stream most of my music from my premium account at Spotify. I don’t own any of this music, but why would I need to? Pretty much everything that has ever been recorded is there for my delectation whenever I want – and all for less each month than, in the supposed good old days, I would have paid for just one CD.