By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Anthology is a collection that doesn't sit comfortably with some of modern music copyright's odd inventions, such as the so-called authorial protection of publishing rights. Like the bass lines of a thousand rap songs, the folk melodies and lyrics of the Anthology do not hew to 20th-century notions of authorship. It is music for the people and from the people, recorded not written down, born perhaps in the English or Scottish countryside of the 19th century, bred in Appalachia and other impoverished pockets of the United States. It's music that seems carefully cut from another era and pasted back into the fabric of America, bent and strange: "Old Enoch, he lived to be three hundred and sixty five"; "In the days of eighteen and one, peg and awl"; "I asked them bring me my pistol, three rounds of ball"; "Oh death, where is thy sting?"
Smith illustrated the cover of the Anthology's first edition with a picture of God tuning what he termed the Celestial Monochord. Perhaps the songs here don't go as far back as Creation, but they do offer a kind of Rosetta stone for vernacular American music -- vernacular art being what pop culture is after the marketing budgets are tapped: well-loved, well-worn trash. If the Anthology was meant to teach us the story of American music, Napster is the tool that could update that lesson for the present day.
Listen to what comes out of Napster's simple searches -- try typing in as a title just the word love-- and it's not hard to imagine it as the birth of a celestial jukebox filled with a selection of sounds limited only by the public's will and a rapidly improving Internet architecture. Napster has cut through the glamour of video and the photograph and reacquainted us with music.
I'm continually amazed by what one is able to find even now, in a phase when Napster is just an outgrowth of one kid's efforts to help further the effortless download of bad frat-rock. Turns out that that kid has invented 20th-century music's greatest library and index: the Anthology of American Popular Music. One day, perhaps, as more people convert their favorite recordings into MP3s and add them to the directory, we'll have the Anthology of All Music.
We are now being asked by modern entertainment conglomerates to hold off in accessing such a thing. We are being told to wait for them to prepare their own proprietary versions, limited most likely to each fiefdom's narrowly dictated slate of fully owned songs. Yet now, theoretically at least, everything is in print, every record can be part of the public record, and that record can strive for perfection.
Why should we wait?
It's July, midway through 2000. Something's just begun, but we don't know what it is.
Six months after visiting Erika, I'm driving through the heat of our century's first summer toward Napster's then-corporate headquarters in San Mateo, California, just south of San Francisco Bay (the company has since moved to nearby Redwood City). The billboards on this stretch of 101 tell the story of what has happened here since laid-back Northern California made its first impressions on '60s pop culture. They echo that past (Excite.com: "Turn You On"), sarcastically mock old moral conventions (E*Trade: "Root of all evil . . . Can't buy happiness . . . Blah blah blah"), and look upon the future like a carnivore licking its chops (Forbes.com: "Capitalism served fresh daily"). A hippie bumper sticker seen en route counters these billboards with a short riposte: "inner.com."
Since its debut, the major labels have depicted Napster as a dark force for piracy emerging from Silicon Valley; the press has portrayed it as a rascally start-up leading a coup d'état to liberate music. These are images the company has embraced, adopting as its mascot what looks to be a cross between Satan and a clever kitten, and trotting into the spotlight the software's initial architect, Shawn Fanning, a 19-year-old weight lifter, programmer and Northeastern University dropout. Fanning's ubiquitous low-lidded baseball caps and his company's sponsorship of a free Limp Bizkit summer tour seem sure signs that he's sympathetic to the current teen vogue for self-consciously dumb mook rock. ("We weren't hackers," he insisted in a recent Spin piece about the company. "Absolutely not," added Sean Parker, an early Napster employee. "We were white hats.")
San Mateo, however, is not quite Silicon Valley. The environs do much to allay impressions that Napster is a force for either evil or good, unless you can deduce moral posture from the strip malls of a banal suburban street. The company is located in San Mateo's Union Bank of California building, right across the street from Cheap Pete's Picture Frame Factory Outlet.
Inside Napster headquarters, the place is the pluperfect start-up: The office carpets are stained. The walls are a smudged white. The only employees in sight appear to be male computer drones with mussed brown hair. The reception area smells a little like diapers. Inga, the staffing manager, is trying to schedule a haircut. No pirates.
I'm taken to the company conference room. There's a gumball machine filled with gourmet jellybeans, and I'm told to eat as many as I wish. The magazine rack is telling. There are multiple issues of Fortune, BrandWeek, Hollywood Reporter, Fast Company, Business 2.0 and Red Herring. Spin is the only music magazine present, and it's the issue with Napster on the cover.