Dookie and the Peak of Profitable Cheap Plastic, Not Music or Culture

Categories: Up On Sun

One of the things I like most about New Times Music Editor Martin Cizmar is disagreeing with him. We've had some fun arguments and discussions on music, culture, the role of the press and even Eazy E.

Which is why I felt compelled to write this post completely and unequivocally disagreeing with his latest column "An Ode To 1994: Green Day's Dookie and the Peak of Western Civilization."

Dookie, while a milestone, was not in any way the peak of Western Civilization. It was the peak of one specific physical product: the CD. It was the right record in the right place and right time. To understand why it was a huge success one has to look at the context. It came out as the CD format was finally becoming the universal standard music format, after slowly building for over a decade. It was not until the early 90s that this was cemented as the standard. Before that, there had been a long and confusing transition from record to cassette tape to CD.

Today we are going through a similar transition in media. In the 90s there was one way to consume music, the way the big labels forced you to, and there was one price you paid, the price they told you. Today there are an infinite number of ways one can consume and interact with music. When Dookie came out you bought and then listened to the CD and maybe you started a band in your garage and played bad covers of "Longview." That was the only way one interacted with the album and everyone did it. With one neatly-scaled product the profits were astronomical. The reason sales numbers are so impressive is they represented every interaction with that album in one neat number. 

Today we have options. We can buy the single on Guitar Hero, we can download the song we like from bit torrent and make our own mash-ups and remixes, we can buy those old CDs or we can cherry pick the tracks on iTunes and take it with us on our iPhone or stream the video online, and we can even buy an old fashioned 45.

Its now hard, if not impossible, for the media to measure the successes of one record against the next. Nine Inch Nails can release an album for free on their website and be the number on one seller on Amazon for the year and yet not be anywhere near the top of Billboard. Radiohead had one of the most culturally significant albums of the year (if not the decade) last year, but looking at the same charts that tell us how important Dookie was and you will not find it anywhere to be seen.

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