March 13, 2001

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


One thing in common with everyone who lives in Ely is that we are free spirits. The degree of this free wheeling spirit depends on the individual. Some snowmobile in the BWCA for kicks while others tend to be more legal in their expressions of “we don’t need no stinking rules” from St. Paul. I think for the most part this is healthy. People who are free spirits do not get caught up in so many of the traps that exist in this crazy high stress culture we have. Waiting in line is one of those things we don’t go for. By living up in Ely we avoid most of life’s queues. Those awful merging traffic lights on the freeways are a prime example of insane waiting. I would imagine drivers down in Minneapolis spend the equivalent of several years just waiting to get on a freeway. In Minneapolis there are lines for everything; restaurants on Friday night, theaters, parking lots, checkout lines, airports, no right turns on red, banks – they all make people wait. Free spirits just hate things like that.

My latest avenue for being a free spirit is coming to an end. I have been a Napster junkie for almost six months. Napster is that evil Internet site that allows you to download music and other audio files off of other computers. Even as I write this column I am downloading a file. I am one of 7, 152 computers that are linked together. We collectively are sharing 1,366, 446 files. Is it illegal and unethical to swap music files? Yes, definitely. Hundreds of rock and roll stars have been forced to cut back to 10 maids and have had to cancel buying that sixteenth limo to park in their underground garage. By using Napster I have deprived Celin Dion, Cher, Kenny G, Sarah Brightman, Charlotte Church, and Beethoven of their royalties by filling my hard drive with free songs. Actually, I suppose Ludvig really doesn’t mind since he is dead.

However, Napster’s reign of terror is about to end. The same court system that let OJ Simpson play golf and found Hillary Clinton this Century’s Joan of Arc has decided that sharing music is to be no more. Napster is busy installing filters to stop the swapping of copyrighted songs. The fact that there are several other venues that do the same thing on the Internet is ignored by the court. Indeed, there is one sharing program that does not need a central server like Napster. It exists as long as more than one computer is using the software. The courts can’t find anyone responsible to sue or jail. So the bootlegging will go on. It just won’t be as easy. The real cutting edge hackers are moving on ways to download entire movies and when that becomes popular, the Napster case will look like a parking violation.

I feel sorry for Napster. They have been cast as Satan’s helpers. Yet their program has allowed me to hear things that I thought I would never hear again. When one of my kids was studying about World War Two I downloaded some German Marches used by the Nazis. To balance that off we listened to “Der Fuerer’s Face” by Spike Jones.

When Victor Borge died last month we downloaded from Napster some of his wonderful comic routines that he did with a piano. His playing Happy Birthday the way great composers would have composed it is still just as funny today as it was when he first did it in the 1950’s. My children had no trouble understanding his ad-libs. Borge lead to a family discussion about other musical comedians and thanks to Napster my children were able to hear more musical comedy..

We listened to the Marx Brothers sing their “Duck Soup War Song” and we heard Chico Marx’s fun piano routines. We enjoyed Fred Allen’s radio show with guests like Jack Benny and others.

Leaving the 30’s and 40’s we moved onward to the famed Rat Pack. I didn’t realize that the term Rat Pack actually came from Humphey Bogart’s group of friends in the early 1950s. Bogart and his lovely wife, Lauren Bacall, along with Judy Garland and husband Sid Luft, British Actor David Niven, songwriter Jimmy Van Husuen, and a very young Frankie Sinatra made up the first original Rat Pack. Sinatra borrowed the term in the 1960’s to describe his new group of party animals. Thanks to Napster I was able to download Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. My daughters found the boys to be very risqué even by today’s standards. Yet they found their hit songs to be very good music. I told them that Dean Martin made a bet with his son that he could make a hit song that would bump the endless parade of Beatles’ hits. His son took the bet thinking Pop was too old to pull that off. The result was the song “Everybody Loves Somebody” which did bump the Beatles off the hit parade in April 1964.

I will miss Napster. It had everything. Musically, you could explore the whole world. If you want to hear “My heart will go on” from Titanic in Chinese or Russian, you could find it on Napster. If you wanted to hear Churchill or FDR, Napster had it. If you wanted to hear Classical, Country, or Techo it was on Napster. Legal or not it was a place where you could listen to anything. It was like radio on demand.

Some claim Napster represented lost CD sales. Some claim that Napster actually increased CD sales by letting people hear the music first and motivating them to buy. Who was right, will probably never be known. All I know is that the courts have ended one of the web’s most useful tools to research and hear audio masterpieces. My feeling is that Napster has caused CD sales to increase. I recently purchased some Martin and Sinatra CDs. I suppose I could have downloaded all the songs, but I , like most people, wanted the whole package. I want the photos, the songs and the ability to play this great music where ever I have a CD player. Especially, on my speed boat as I cruise on Basswood.

So for the future, to maintain my being a free spirit, I will have to be satisfied with ripping tags off of pillows and not eating my fiber. I enjoy doing those things, but I will still miss Napster.


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