I wasn't ready to be haunted by Helen Reddy

Yes, I am wise, but itís wisdom born of pain.
    The issue of duplicating music and exchanging it freely over the internet has been cast as a high-stakes battle between the music industry and a citizenís constitutional right to exchange information. Me, I would be happy if I could just get the Helen Reddy demon out of my head.
    I just canít stop myself from singing "I am Woman."
    Oh sure, itís my own fault. Iíve been downloading songs by the boatload Ė over 200 of them. My collection of computer tunes boasts selections from Elvis to Elvis Costello, from Melanie to Mel Torme, from the Dixie Chicks to Tennessee Ernie Ford.
    Iíve been using this program called Napster, which is essentially a switchboard connecting one computer user to another and allows each to search the otherís music collection and exchange songs. At first, it seemed harmless enough. I found all sorts of old favorites that I would have purchased long ago if it werenít for the necessity of having to spend $14.95 on a whole CD just to get one tune.
    For my fatherís birthday, I made him a custom CD with his favorites from Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Glenn Miller. My father-in-law received a collection of selections from Louis Prima and Keely Smith. All for the paltry sum of the buck and a half it costs to buy a blank CD.
    But, in the words of Jay & The Americans: "and then it happened." I started collecting some "what the heck" songs like Sgt. Barry Sadlerís "Ballad of the Green Berets, " "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells and the "Peanuts" piano theme.
    I decided to grab a few "oddball" tunes in case I ever wanted them to use as a humorous soundtrack for something. One of the things about using Napster is you need to play the songs you download Ė often they end abruptly or are mislabeled.
    So I found myself listening to that anthem of the feminist movement, "I am Woman." It bent me and now itís broken me. I am not strong, I am not invincible and, most of all, I am not woman. And not only does that song keep playing in my head, I keep seeing Hillary Clintonís face.
    Someday scientists will discover the reason that the gray matter of the cerebral cortex latches on to awful anthems such as this, but in the meantime I take some small consolation it could have been worse. I could be haunted by Richard Harrisí "MacArthur Park" and be having nightmares about that darn cake someone left out in the rain.
    Itís my own greed that got me here. Napster and its ilk might not be around that long because they are being sued by the music industry and various performers for illegally distributing copyrighted material, even though, technically, they are merely conduits. So I figured I better get while the getting is good.
    I donít feel the least bit guilty about it. The record industry, blubbering through its crocodile tears, claims the very future of music is at stake. I doubt it. Music has been around since the first caveman started banging together a couple of rocks and blowing through hollowed-out mastodon bones. The absolute worst that could happen to the executives who brought us the Backstreet Boys is they might have to start flying commercial (first-class, of course) instead of soaring around in their own jets.
    Of course that's just here on this Earth.  When their end comes, they will burn in Hell.
    And the entertainers themselves, folks like The Artist formerly and once again known as Prince and Eminem might only be able to add to their land holding by purchasing counties rather than entire states. Billy Joel is a wealthy man Ė need I say more?
    The Napster-type technology will soon allow for gleaning movies the same way it now does for music. Iím not going to shed tears for the guy who owns Blockbuster or the president of Time Warner/America Online. I expect Spielberg will be okay, too. And donít get me started on Demi Moore.
    The truth is itís way too early to predict what effect the internet will have on the entertainment industry. Like television was in the 1940's, itís still an embryo with a long, long way to go.
    Now, where have I heard that before?


June 7, 2000