Conan O’Brien and City Lights Records: A eulogy?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I'm With Coco I’ve been tweeting about these things for a few days now, but I haven’t posted anything here for a month, so let me collect and plagiarize some of my recent thoughts.

I’m feeling sadness for Haiti (text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti) . . . and also for the following two “trivial” events because they represent and reflect larger cultural issues for me: City Lights Records closing and Conan O’Brien’s last show.

Conan O’Brien

Last night most of America tuned in to watch Conan O’Brien’s last show on NBC. Conan’s grateful closing monologue and “Free Bird” finale was a perfect ending to “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” He went off the air playing his guitar with a huge grin on his face. That guy’s a class act.

Too bad “The Tonight Show” is dead now. Feels like a nail in the coffin. Is anyone really going to watch Leno again? Really? When we have the Internet, Letterman and so many other TV channels?

I was inspired by this quote from Conan’s closing monologue:

“Please don’t be cynical. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Dear Internet, Conan is today’s everyman. “I’m With Coco,” yes. (I’m also a little sad that the world is losing Conan’s Super Mario Bros. set backdrop.)

Where will Conan end up? On a late-night talk show on another network this September? On the Internet? For Conan O’Brien’s core audience (age 18-34), “the time slot is being replaced by a URL.” Read more: “Bye, NBC. Hello, Internet?

City Lights Records

The end is near. I haven’t lived in Pennsylvania for over eight years now, but this is still important to me. My favorite independent record store, City Lights Records (off Penn State campus), is closing after 25 years. It’s sad, but not unexpected. City Lights is (was) State College’s last record store. I spent countless hours there. The closing of the store is the closing of happy memories that I won’t ever be able to revisit physically.

City Lights Records Read local coverage in The Daily Collegian and The Penn Stater (with video).

This comment by a user named Chuck really resonates with me: “I have mixed feelings towards the digital revolution. And it’s obviously here to stay. But there will always be a soft spot in my heart for those stores that influenced my listening habits.”

Late night comedy

Similarly, I have a soft spot for those creative comedians who were funny enough and cared deeply enough to influence my own sense of humor. “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” was a staple of my television consumption during high school and college. Though, during college, my TV watching started to approach zero. I also enjoyed David Letterman on both NBC and CBS for years, throughout my childhood and adolescence.

Even though I didn’t watch much of “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” until January of this year, I am eager to know where Conan will land next and will probably tune in (if only on Hulu or similar). It’s strange how all this controversy between millionaire entertainers and network executives created such a genuine outpouring of support from the American public (working class). Strange that it even caused me to watch a network television show for the first time in a long while, if only for two weeks. But, I have to say, it was really fun, enjoyable television.

Michael Ian Black argues that Conan O’Brien has inexplicably become a modern representation of Norma Rae—someone who stands up and does the right thing in the face of corporate injustice. I think most of America feels that way. An unlikely hero, sure.

Digital revolution

As for independent music stores, if Penn State University and State College, PA can’t even manage to support one small basement record store anymore, then I can no longer deny that the halcyon days of rifling through stacks of obscure CDs (and vinyl, for some) and discovering new music via artwork and physical forms have ended. Those days ended years ago, of course. Plastic discs are a dying medium.

I can’t remember the last time I actually bought a music CD. I always hated how much physical space my huge music collection took up. But I also have such fondness for these days gone by. Each collected disc was potentially precious and meaningful. Albums mattered. Today I have more MP3s than I know what to do with. It’s hard to give any artist or album the proper amount of attention . . . and the gigabytes of MP3s continue to grow. The solution is to keep buying bigger hard drives on which to store all of this music and figure it out later.

I guess right now I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the illusion of simpler times. (And I’m starting to veer off topic.) I’m thinking of days before presidential administrations agreed with the RIAA and openly supported “file sharing damages of up to $150,000 per track.” The time we live in is certainly a transitional period for all media industries and entertainment products. But so long as independent artists are able to survive this cultural turmoil and continue to inspire our lives, we’ll come out all right. I could ramble some more about these issues, but instead maybe I’ll give one of these MP3 albums a second or third listen.

See you in September, Coco.

Similar posts that may be of interest:
    None Found