Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The last beloved set of the masses
I was watching one of those Rockumentaries on Netflix last night. This one was about U2's The Joshua Tree, an album that is probably the defining moment in the history of my life as a music fan.
I had been a U2 fan since War was released in the U.S. at the end of 1982. Back then, they were one of those edgy new bands that you'd only hear on progressive AOR stations. Mixed among Red Rider, Planet P and Def Leppard was "New Year's Day" by U2. I had mostly followed pop music up to that point, but something made me switch the dial over to the new stuff that had more of an edge.
I became such a fan that I searched out their older albums -- Boy and October -- and bought those. It was the first time I had done that with a band. When The Unforgettable Fire came out, I played that thing over and over, and wished that the band was more popular so I could hear their songs more on the radio, and talk about the band with more people.
I couldn't find many people who knew who U2 was until I moved away to college. There, I found the alternative rock crowd and it wasn't long before I heard that U2 was working on a new album, The Joshua Tree.
When the first single came out -- "With Or Without You" -- in early 1987, I knew that this was their big break. People couldn't help but pay attention to them now. And they did. The Joshua Tree, even though it wasn't like anything else that was on the radio at the time, became a huge multiplatinum seller, and crossed so many boundaries that even Madonna fans had The Joshua Tree in their collection.
When my wife and I merged our music collections -- a rite of passage for couples hooking up -- our divergent musical tastes were obvious. We still don't like the same music. But each of us brought a cassette tape of The Joshua Tree to the pile.
The '80s was a time of huge albums that broke through all musical tastes and genres to become albums that everyone who followed music knew. First it was Michael Jackson's Thriller. Then it was Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, and then it was U2's Joshua Tree. This was obvious to anyone who was musically aware during the '80s.
After that, I don't know if you can put another album in the category of those albums. Nirvana's Nevermind, maybe. But I knew people who didn't like Nirvana at the time. Sure, other albums sold more copies, but few of them became such music sensations that they were on the cover of Time magazine, too.
And then it occurred to me when I was watching the documentary:
The Joshua Tree is 25 years old this year.
Wow. I am ancient.
Music seems a lot more fractured now. Different styles of music, fans going their own way listening to what they want and not listening to what they don't. It's very difficult to come up with one song, let alone one album, that unifies so many as happened back in the '70s and '80s.
And, I think the same can be said for baseball cards. In fact, you can probably state a more definitive case for baseball cards than for music.
In 1987, there were three main card companies: Donruss, Fleer and Topps. In a year, Score would join the pack. Two years later, Upper Deck would appear. And then all hell broke loose, with lots of different companies issuing lots of different brands, with lots of different inserts, containing lots of different parallels.
How do you choose what you want?
Well you can't. It's too much. And so emerged categories of collectors.
The set collector. The player collector. The team collector. The autograph collector. The relic collector. The hit collector. The collector who only collects patches. The collector who only collects vintage. The collector who only collects rookies.
Separate. Distinct. Apart. And sometimes looking at the other collectors with a raised eyebrow. (But basically being pleasant about it, fortunately).
Nobody collected like that in 1987. In '87, you waited for the Topps set to arrive -- and, oh yeah, Fleer and Donruss, too -- and you collected that set. If the set was really good, it became a set that broke all boundaries, an iconic set, that people couldn't help but want to collect.
And I think the last time there was a set like that, the last set beloved by the masses ...
... was 1987 Topps. Also 25 years old this year.
Think of all the love there is for 1987 Topps on the blogs. Many say it's the first set they ever collected. The first set they ever remember seeing. Key cards of Barry Bonds, Wally Joyner, Bo Jackson, etc.
It is so appreciated that I feel like a loner because I've never been interested in the set and its appeal is lost on me.
That's kind of like how it was in 1987 if you didn't like U2 (there was always a contrarian who had to dislike what everyone else liked).
But I have to admit that it may be the last beloved set by most collectors.
What else has there been since then that can top it?
1989 Upper Deck? I know a lot of collectors who don't like UD at all and didn't like it in 1989.
1991 Topps? There's a lot of retro love for the set now, but it wasn't well-liked at the time.
1993 Upper Deck? Too many other sets to contend with the greatness of '93 UD.
And on and on. There are pockets of sets here and there that some collectors think are great -- 2004 Upper Deck Timeless Teams, 2004 Cracker Jack, 1991 Stadium Club, 2007-08 Masterpieces, etc., etc. But there are just too many sets out so that it can't be a consensus anymore. Never mind the fact that there are too many collectors who don't even think in terms of sets anymore. They're just trying to get the players that they like.
So we're each like all the music fans out there, wearing our individual ipods, listening to what we want to listen to, collecting what we want to collect, and not listening to and not collecting what we don't want.
What's wrong with that?
Nothing really, I guess. It's your hobby, your interests, you should be able to get what you want. Why spend money or effort on what you don't want? Besides, how dull would the blogs be if every blog talked about collecting the 2012 Topps set?
But the communal nature of collecting back in the '70s and '80s was pretty cool, too.
"Did you get the Robin Yount card yet? No? It's a really cool card. You should see it! Did you get Reggie Jackson? Oh, man, I want that card so much! Hey, I just finished off all the Phillies! Still need one of those stupid 4-player rookie cards, though."
And the same goes for music, too.
"Doesn't Edge's guitar intro in 'In God's Country' blow your mind?"
And everyone comes back with an enthusiastic:
I miss that.
Maybe this is just me losing touch with today's youth and what is popular in music today. After all, there was a time when U2 wasn't famous and I seemed to be one of the few who knew who they were. Wasn't I going off on my own, listening to what I wanted and not listening to what I didn't want?
But actually I think it's more the nature of the times in which we live. You can make the same argument for television, since the advent of cable TV and the internet. The viewership is fragmented. Abundant choices. Abundant tastes. You could even point to the sobering studies about political, religious and cultural divisions. According to what I've read, there seems to be an inability to understand the other side, and a too eager willingness to put the other side down. We're entrenched in what we want and have no use for what we don't want.
Fortunately, this is just a baseball card blog. And baseball cards are just a hobby.
I may miss the days of cards and music when more people had more in common.
But collecting whatever you want sounds pretty good, too.