In 1999, I was exploring this new, amazing thing: the world wide web. I wasn’t an active participant in any social areas like Slashdot nor was I a gamer. Instead, I mostly kept to myself, fascinated as I was with how this world wide web thing worked. You see, growing up, if my toys had any screws on them, I would inevitably find the appropriate tiny screwdriver and open them up. I was consistently disappointed that there was little for me to do other than replace the plastic cover I had removed.
But the web was different: on every page I visited, I could read the code that made it happen. There was so much to do and try and explore! All over the phone lines via a dial-up connection. Images crawled into view, and a (these days quite tiny) 68 megabyte trial download of Paint Shop Pro (a long-defunct Photoshop competitor) required me to leave the computer connected and downloading overnight.
So I spent hours coding, recoding, and trying to find a website hosting provider, generally relying on free hosts, lacking as I did the ability to pay for a real one. (I always envied Justin, since he had a real, legitimate web host long before I even met him.) I liked to listen to music while I worked, but I started out listening to the worst approximation of music, lacking all richness, musicality… like instead of seeing your favorite movie, you’re handed a black and white stick-figure flip book approximating the plot. Horrid. This ersatz music was mostly a result of size limitations — computers had tiny tiny hard drives and it took forever to download high quality sounds. There had to be something that produced good-sounding songs without giant file sizes, right? Well, this was the web, so I could spend a little time looking.
Then I heard my first MP3. I can not describe to you what this was like, in a house with few CDs, none of which were my own, to be able to download songs I liked and listen to them in amazing, visceral, high fidelity! I don’t recall the song I first listened to, but I vividly recall my brain asking what black magic is this? To this day, the song Porcelain by Moby brings me right back to those long summer days of youth, where everything was new and fresh and the phone lines brought beautiful music to me.
This morning, as I was reading through Apple’s celebration of 30 years of the Mac, I noticed Moby’s album Play is 15 years old, and he talked about producing it on a Mac from his tiny apartment in Manhattan. Naturally, I looked up the song “Porcelain” on Wikipedia:
Moby initially disliked the track, criticizing his production as “mushy” and his vocals as “really weak”. He had dismissed “Porcelain” as “average” and later recalled that he “couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to listen to it” – however, he was eventually talked into including it on Play.
This is a song that charted worldwide, one that critics really liked, a song you could argue helped make Moby famous—and he hated it so much he did not even want to include it on the album. I’ve always been that way with my own work, be it on websites or logotypes or music—I really do not see it is anything special and I am sure nobody would want to look at/listen to/experience it voluntarily. “Useful only to me as an example of where I learned what not to do” is how the monologue in my head goes. I continue to be not surprised but shocked, bowled over when someone says they heard my (now old and needing a successor) piano album and liked it.
We may be our toughest critics, but as gatekeepers I wonder if we could be a little more permissive.