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Long Distance Voyagers is a 796 page resource book about the Moody Blues rock band. Surprisingly given the high profile of the band - they have sold more than 80 million records and were one of the pioneers of the concept album and of classic rock - this is the first major volume devoted to their oeuvre. The book is the labour of love of Marc Cushman, who is best known for his monumental books analysing Star Trek and Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space series. This latest massive volume is equally monumental - it is only volume one taking the story of the band up to 1979.
Recently I have been impressed and rewarded by several major historical books about art music icons, including the Nick Drake anthology Remembered For A While. This comes from long-established publishing house John Murray, and has commensurate high design values and sharp sub-editing. Long Distance Voyagers comes from new media publisher Jacobs Brown and suffers from the lacklustre design and lightweight sub-editing that are the hallmarks of desktop publishing. But this should not detract from what is a very rewarding document for those who, like me, underwent their musical and other rites of passage in the 1960s to the soundtrack of In Search of a Lost Chord.
But there is much more to this project than a book documenting a rock band from the dim and distant past. Ten years ago Long Distance Voyagers would have been created as a web resource, leveraging the information sharing power of the internet gifted to us by Tim Berners-Lee. But today an online search for the term 'Moody Blues' means wading through acres of sponsored and algorithmically prioritised dross in the hope of finding a fraction of the wisdom that now sits on my bookshelf. Once the Higher & Higher website provided an online Moody Blues resource, but it has fallen into disuse and is now headlined by an all too familiar message - 'When you visit our site, pre-selected companies may use certain information on your device to serve relevant ads and for analytics purpose.'
Professionally I was an early adopter of the internet, now I am an early rejecter who is spending more and more time reading printed pages. My recent reading included Michio Kaku's Parallel Worlds. Kaku's exposition of superstring theory left me marvelling at the similarities between Sufi musicians and teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan's teachings about vibrations and the current cutting-edge research of theoretical physicists. This in turn led me to reread my interview with Jonathan Harvey, in which Jonathan, possibly unconsciously, links music to superstring theory in this reply: "And the question of whether music can transform matter is a very big question. We all know about the soprano shattering the wine glass. It’s all vibrations, I mean music and the world, everything is oscillation".
That 2010 interview with Jonathan Harvey took a lot of time and effort to produce; but the result was a valuable online resource that reached a large audience. However I would not undertake such a project today. Because I know that unless my subject could dish dirt about Brexit or abuse, or even better dish dirt about abuse in a music school with a Brexit supporter as principal and where James Levine gave conducting masterclasses, the readership would not justify the effort required to create it. And I know that because my views are at variance with classical music's mutual admiration society, there would be no chance of the interview being shared by our self-serving cultural commentators via the final arbiter of exposure - social media. We created a miracle in the internet, and we have turned it into a monster. Thank goodness, to misquote Paul Simon, I have my books and my CDs to protect me.
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A few days ago the same cultural commentator was bragging that their blog had won a phony award from a social media platform deploying a business model that depends on undermining the value system in publishing.
Which part of problem don't they understand?