Tonight on The Turntable: American Football

Posted on July 10, 2014

Wow…

In today’s mail I got my copy of “American Football” from Polyvinyl and all I can keep saying is “wow.”

Let’s leave aside that fact that this LP was originally released in 1999 and I never knew about it. This 15 year anniversary release is a study in how to create an experience with craft.

For starters, it’s expanded from one to two LP’s, with the second one being a collection of “rare live recordings, demos, and practice sessions.” The vinyl itself is a lovely marbled red and the cover and record sleeves are designed around some very nice photography.

There is also an enormous booklet that includes lyrics, brief stories about each song and (be still my beating heart) the guitars tunings used for each song. That last one almost made me weep. Somebody wanted this music to be enjoyed on every possible level.

In addition, Polyvinyl the record label really has won my heart as well. This order contained a complementary single from the upcoming Alvvays LP (which I had already pre-ordered). Evidently this is a Polyvinyl tradition, in which they occasionally include a little something extra in an order. These extra singles are created specifically for mail order customers and are never sold. They just get slipped into random orders or included with special edition releases. That is pretty awesome.

Oddly, they also included a piece of “Air Heads” taffy with the order. Thankfully, this was well sealed. — I suspect this Champaign-Urbana, Illinois company has little experience with a Georgia summer, where asphalt can actually be rendered into a liquid state from the heat. 🙂 That said, this has to be the most pleasing package I have received in a very long time.

The music itself is a marvelous blend of math-rock and airy melody, which is perfect for the light rain falling outside. Reading through the stories on each track while the music plays is such a treat. It’s more like a conversation. I think this weekend, I will reserve some time to put on the head phones, lay down on the couch with all the lights off and just listen.

This is kind of what I was talking about in my previous couple of posts, what I will term an “heirloom experience.”

For the crafter, it’s considering how what you make will be experienced, touched, heard or whatever. What you make is not simple utility, it is how you pass on an experience to someone.

For the person who encounters the craft, the magic lies in the “aha moment,” when you  realize that someone thought about your experience when they were building or designing. This can be anything from the art and presentation of a great album like the one I am listening to right now, the smooth gentle curve on a nice piece of furniture, or the surprise you feel when a piece of software does what you were hoping, instead of what you expected.

There is a sudden appreciation of the Crafter behind the Craft, the thought behind the experience. So much of our experiences in this vein are negative, rather than positive. In fact, I am fairly certain the the creators of the “blister pack” have likely been atomized at this point by the sheer power of psychic rage directed their way.

The drawback to Craft has always been two-fold: time and money. Craft takes longer and tends to cost more. Everyone is busy and everyone wants to get a bargain. So much so this has actually become the sum total of American industry; the corporation that can shave 3 minutes off a production process or lower the cost of each widget made by 40 cents will succeed and amass tremendous wealth.

These corporations deal with millions of people, so the math makes perfect sense for them. Sadly, most individual humans have bought into the idea that life is a business. We cut 5 minutes here and save 20 cents there, all in the goal of succeeding the way a business succeeds.

The problem is that the math doesn’t work at our level, or even at the level of a small business for that matter. In our lives, we deal with small numbers of people, so the time we shave off of our interactions with them doesn’t benefit us significantly, nor does it benefit them. But still we shave that time and save those pennies, and the only one’s who gain a wealth of experience are the corporations we buy from. The math works for them, but not for us.

What if we took the time, spent the dollar and invested in ourselves and the small group of people we encounter every day? We could take the time to sand down that rough edge on whatever we are making, or spend a little extra money on that bottle of wine to share with a friend (even if they might never notice the difference). What would happen?

Given the amount of stress we inflict on ourselves every day, maybe we should try to bring a few more heirloom experiences into our lives.