Time Capsule

In order to get myself back onto a regular schedule of three posts a week, I hereby cannibalize the introduction to a non-fiction work-in-progress.

The book is about the early 1990s, but through the lens of a particular album by a particular band. (You don’t know them, and that’s not important to the points made here.)

As I was telling the story of how I came to discover the band and the album, I realized that I had some ‘splainin’ to do. Because in some ways, we really are on the far side of the Singularity. My young friends have no idea how haphazard information acquirement could be in the days before everyone had access to the internet, search engines, WikiPedia, and so forth.

The following is my attempt to make that world real to those who will never know it.

This, remember, is 1991. The internet existed, but I had never encountered it. The web was only two years old. And I was two years from encountering either, let alone the concept of online searches (Google was still 6 years from being created).

It may not be possible to communicate the “default settings” of the world to someone raised on smart phones, iTunes, Google, and being mere seconds away from any information you can clearly define. But let me try to express how tenuous things could be.

Imagine you hear the tail end of a song, and you really, really dig it. It’s playing on the radio, let’s say. And the DJ does not back-announce the set, if you keep listening trying to find out what it was. You get a snatch of lyrics, and the memory of the melody.

If you’re like me, you’re completely non-musical, so you can’t even guess at notes or chords. You can give maybe a rough idea of instrumentation — but what good does that do with most rock bands? So what you have are some words from the lyrics, quite possibly misheard or misrecalled, and the melody in your head, which you can maybe hum in a way that someone else might recognize, and maybe not.

How do you find out what the song was? How do you find out who the band was, if you’ve never heard them before? Where do you even begin, keeping in mind that you can’t just fire up a computer, type in the lyrics you think you heard, and get some answers as quick as you can type?

The only answer, at the time, was to start asking all of your friends who followed music, especially of the type you think you heard. If you were lucky, and your memory was good enough, and your friend had encountered the song or the band before (hardly a sure thing), you’d get a solid guess as to who the band was, or what the song was.

If you were unlucky, you could wait years before hearing the song again and ever finding out anything more about it.