Autopsy for the Record Industry

Stephen Witt’s superb “How Music Got Free” administers a bone saw to the music industry’s corpse and details the official cause of death with a pathologist’s detail. It’s a slow, circuitous death, and every corner is set in fascinating detail, from Karlheinz Brandenberg’s use of research on the possible spectrum of heard sounds in order to develop the specific compression innovations of the mp3, to the riveting, almost noir-like efforts of CD warehouse worker Dell Glover, patient zero of ’00s music leaks, to secreting advance copies out of an NC plant and onto darknet file sharing forums. And when isn’t it fun to re-live the destruction of major record labels?

I followed this with Bob Mehr’s monumental “Trouble Boys.” No one should use the word monumental lightly. Never go Full Monumental. But this is the first Replacements book where Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson participated fully (although the oral history “All Over But the Shouting” shouldn’t be missed by fans), and it not only doesn’t suck, it delivers on the comprehensive coverage as well as insight. My only warnings would be to 1) get it now 2) prepare to be sad, because Bob Stinson will break your heart again and 3) prepare to be madder at the record industry than usual, and madder at the ‘Mats, too. Westerberg and Stinson don’t shy from being self-critical when it comes to their chemical and neurological tendency toward career self-sabotage. Mehr doesn’t spare them, either. Yet it occurred to me how perfectly born-at-the-wrong-time the ‘Mats were, as far as the music industry (which was always a business; by the eighties, for successful bands, it was only a business), how completely ill suited they’d been to arrive after that eighties’ commodification and then to flare out before the initial decline and current obsolescence of the major label. Someone should have given them one more chance to do it all wrong.