News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Equalizer: The Gift Card Has No Heart
BY JONAS BEALS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Gift cards have ruined Christmas for music lovers.
But gift cards are so convenient! I love giving gift cards because people always get a gift they really want. Gift cards are the perfect holiday gift! Bah.
Those are the kinds of things people say when they’re filled with hate and bitterness. Unfortunately, music—always a good Christmas gift—almost always comes via gift cards these days. But the music gift card is a fallible medium when it comes to gift-giving.
When you give music as a gift, flexibility defeats the purpose. You can’t expect the recipient to choose the songs they need to hear. Don’t give your kids or your friends options: make sure you control what they’re listening to. All an iTunes gift card says is “I don’t trust you with cash.” A true music gift says “I don’t trust your taste in music.”
Giving someone an album on Christmas Day is an opportunity to expand their horizons, to criticize them, to put them back on the right path, to let them know you love and care. A gift card takes all the fun out of it. How can you expect to raise a properly subversive little freak if they keep wasting money 99 cents at a time on One Direction tunes? That card was for Tom Waits, you little monster!
And you can’t just tell people what to download when you give them the card. Try that and all you’re doing is giving them permission to have awkward conversations for the rest of the year in which they pretend to like your music.
But, you say, iTunes allows you to gift songs to other people.
Right. Because there’s nothing more fun than handing your wife an empty stocking while you wink and suggest she check her iTunes account. Brilliant.
Listen, there was a time when the gift of music was an unexpected conduit between two souls. Maybe you never knew your friend was a Skinny Puppy fan until he gave you “Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate” for Christmas. Depending on your own reaction, you either had a friend for life or someone
to avoid in the cafeteria.
At the very least, you learned something. You got a message, whether it was “I love you” or “I think you’d look great with shoulder-length bangs and white face paint.” You heard music you might never have known existed. It was like getting a work of art for your own music museum, curated by someone who knows you like a friend or family member, presumably because they were a friend or family member.
And then there was the musical family, which was what the gift of music was intended to create. As a gift-giver, it was exciting to see someone tear open that new tape or record or CD, but it was even more exciting to find out how they received it after a few weeks or months of listening. A good review could mean a kindred spirit—another like-minded listener with good taste and an adventurous bent. A bad review could be heartbreaking.
At the very least, gifting new music was a litmus test for a relationship. Would your parents understand? Would your boyfriend get the joke? Would your brother want to come with you to a concert?
Those moments of musical connection could be important, or even pivotal, in people’s lives. For some pop-culture examples, check out “Almost Famous” when Anita Miller leaves her little brother a box of canonical rock records, or the TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” when Mr. Rosso gives Lindsay Weir the Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty.”
Those are moments that put people on a new path.
Good luck changing someone’s life with a gift card.
JONAS’ IN-TOWN PICK: Open-mic night at the Colonial Tavern. If you live in the Fredericksburg area, you must make an occasional trip to an open-mic night. Monday at 9 p.m.
OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Dave Matthews Band at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. Two nights
of Virginia’s favorite band in their hometown. Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.
LISTENING TO: “Within You Without You” by The Beatles. The late master sitar player Ravi Shankar influenced George Harrison, then The Beatles, then the world.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036