Some thoughts on modern music distribution and rarity,
by Hoi Polloi Musical Director Dave Malloy
So. Hoi Polloi Artistic Director Alec Duffy recently won the Sufjan Stevens Xmas Xchange Contest, with his song "Everyday Is Christmas" (official site here). First off, let us say that all of us here at Hoi Polloi are just pleased as punch and beaming with joy for Alec's honor and Sufjan's kind words. We have all been huge fans of Sufjan's work from the first (Alec first told me about Sufjan right after Michigan's release, when he discovered that they worked in the same building, making Alec rather girlishly starstruck. I was initially a bit confused by Alec's excitement, because I thought that he was talking about Cat Stevens, and that Sufjan was Cat's new Islamic name; Alec soon corrected me, and I became smitten myself. And that moment in "Feel the Illinoise"..."I cried myself to sleep last night..."...oh thank you, Sufjan!)
Anyway. As winner of the contest, Alec (and thus Alec's theater company) is in sole physical and legal possession of an original Sufjan Stevens track, "Lonely Man of Winter".
And it has raised the interesting question: well, what to do with it?
We've talked about it quite a bit, and we've come up with an approach. Alec has asked me to write a little bit about it.
Already Alec has been approached by a few websites, offering to host the song. Certainly the easiest and most immediately gratifying thing would be to share the song with all the world through the all inclusive, world absorbing internet. It's the great hallmark of our age that everything is so easily accessible to all (well, all economically and socially able to access a computer; but that's another rant). And it's a lovely thing, this vast world of information and art at our fingertips.
However, there is a part of us here at Hoi Polloi that mourns a bit for something lost. For the not so instantly available, for the hard to find. For the labor, the anticipation of seeking something out. For the rarity.
My two record collecting obsessions as a kid were The Beatles and Prince. It was clear to me growing up with my parent's record collection that was something wrong with the (American) pre-Rubber Soul Beatles catalog. My only source of information was the scattered record stores of Lakewood, Ohio, which had an abundance of even more confusing alternate titles...Something New!...Beatles '64...Love Songs...all with just one or two different songs on them! How could I simply and easily (and on a $5 allowance) get all the songs? How could I get every song The Beatles had ever made? The discovery of the record Rarities in a Detroit record store increased my curiosity and insatiability...I wanted it all. Every new vacation town was scoured for used record stores, in the hopes that some new track might be found.
With Prince, my obsession took a slightly different flavor: the 12" and the B-side. The realization that "Erotic City" wasn't on Purple Rain opened me up to a whole new medium, the dance single...and man that weird piano solo on the "Let's Go Crazy" extended mix! I was hooked, taking buses to Yellow Pages found record stores in Shaker Heights, Bay Village, Parma. "Shockadelica"? The 22 minute "America"? This shit was INSANE; and I was one of the few people to know about it. It was like knowing a masonic secret.
It was special.
And then CD's came. The British catalog, Past Masters Vol. 1 & 2, The Hits/The B-Sides and the gaps in my collection were finally filled. And I felt happy, sure. Years later, Napster and Limewire filled in the final 12" mixes, and I was Prince complete (pre-93 that is, I'm not nuts). And nowadays, I've got every Bjork and Radiohead B-side, easily BitTorrented, easy easy easy.
But the romance, the romance of the unfound, the unknown!!
So. We'd like to do something unique with this track.
And so, in an effort to rekindle the flames of rarity, it is not our intention to release the track over the internet.
We'd like to make the hearing of this song something truly special.
We'd like to invite you to email us (sufjansong at yahoo dot com) and arrange a special hearing. We're in Brooklyn. We've been doing Wednesdays and Sundays, with about four people per listening. Bring your best headphones. We'll have cookies and tea.
It is not our intention to hoard the song; we feel the delicate balance here, the danger of seeming like the cruel older sibling dangling the toy out of reach. No, no, we want this to be nice! ANd special, and memorable, and dear, and fuzzy, and all.
There are also tentative plans for a holiday show for 2009 in which the song will figure prominently...and after that, who knows? Like Sufjan's own 50 states project, we have high-reaching, long term visions for this project: a song that's passed on over the years from person to person, a hermetic grail, never being ripped into the world of the digital. Absurd, sure. But we think that Sufjan's artistry will stand the test of time, and we'd like to add to the mythical world of musical legend with our curation of this song: the song that will never be uploaded.
It is our intention to do something truly special, something new for the world of music and digital media. We hope you'll all join us on the ride.
fansite response is here
bah humbug! and scrooge mcduck!!
which are really not the spirit of our idea at all. the idea is to share it, just in non-massmarket/internet ways. like in the old days. (canary pointed out this really interesting article by david byrne- the stuff on music as a social event- dig?)
anyway, i think the original manifesto doesnt properly emphasize that we would love to share it with people in a special way, in person special, with tea and cookies.
so drop us a line...really. were nice. and in brooklyn.
its a really lovely song.