Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Visibility of Vinyl (Or, Put the Needle on the Record)

As many of you know I’m a bit of a music junkie, and I have been noticing a rather interesting trend as I read interviews with various artists about the state of music today. As unpredictable as it would have been a few years ago, there is a growing dissatisfaction among musicians toward digital music in general, and MP3s in particular. White Stripes frontman Jack White, when asked about the biggest challenges facing contemporary artists, said in a recent interview, “[The biggest challenge] is the fight against intangible music, the fight against invisible music.” He continues:

I hope that [in the next several years] there will be some balance between intangible music, invisible music and something that you can hold in your hand. A positive thing right now is that vinyl is staying alive, and record players are starting to be sold at stores again…. We can’t afford to lose the feeling of cracking open a new record and looking at large artwork and having something you can hold in your hands.
So many dots just begging to be connected….

Despite our Gnostic objections to the contrary, Adam Sandler’s character in The Wedding Singer was absolutely correct when he said, “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl. Or boy.” Madonna was right and Sting was wrong, we’re not “ghosts in the machine” or “spirits in a material world,” but we are embodied, situated, corporeal humans who sometimes feel the need to “hold something in our hands,” whether it’s a new LP or a piece of bread and a cup of wine.

I cannot help but wonder if the sacramental instinct on the part of the confessional Protestant is not somewhat frustrated by our unfortunate inability to trace our visible churches back to the time of the apostles by means of an historical succession of bishops whose authority was conferred through something physical like the laying on of hands. I know, I know: neither Rome nor Constantinople—the two churches that do make this kind of claim—can match Geneva’s systematic and exegetical brilliance. But in the same way that we cannot but lament the near-disappearance of the 12" record due to the invisible MP3, so we must fight to protect the visible church from being eclipsed by the invisible one.

Vinyl skips, gets scratched, and cannot be downloaded, and likewise, the visible church is at times rather cumbersome and inconvenient. But so was that body that the second Person of the Godhead assumed, right? But we gotta believe it was worth the hassle.