Sometimes editorials take on a life of their own. I was recently at a lunch when the topic of sound came up and one of the diners mentioned that his son had given him a sound system for his birthday. 'I couldn't get it to work,' he said. 'And when he told me I had to use my phone to operate it, I had to tell him that since I had trouble using it to make phone calls, my chances of using it to operate the system were going to be very slim.' At which point another guest chimed in to say that his old 1970s-vintage system had given up the ghost and that when he visited a hi-fi store to investigate his options, they'd showed him only phone-operated systems. 'I wouldn't mind that,' he said, 'except that they didn't sound any good.' In his opinion whereas cars and computers had improved since the 1970s, hi-fi systems had obviously gone in the opposite direction, despite their being more music around than ever.
I thought this would be a great topic for an Editor's Lead-In: I even had my opening sentence prepared: 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'... borrowed from Charles Dickens of course (the opening lines to his novel 'A Tale of Two Cities') but if borrowing was condoned by none other than T.S. Eliot, who am I to disagree? (Apropos of nothing, I learned only recently that Eliot always insisted on using both his initials, rather than just the one, simply because he couldn't bear what his name became when spelled backwards without the middle initial.)
Co-incidentally, I had just finished a totally fabulous book titled 'The Elements of Eloquence' (by Mark Forsyth) in which he points out that Dickens' expression is a textbook example of a grammatical technique called epistrophe. When it came to writing this editorial, I thought I'd Google the Dickens line and, to my surprise, instead of Dickens, up popped Taylor Swift because of her clumsy but apparently more Google-friendly paraphrase of it: 'He was the best of times, the worst of crimes' (the opening line to her song Getaway Car).
Unfortunately for her, not only is Taylor's line not epistrophe, which would have least have given it some literary cred, it's also nonsense. But for me, the continuing story got even better when it turned out that Swift also lifted the line 'x marks the spot where we fell apart' from Hilary Duff's song Breathe In. Breathe Out from her album of the same name to use in Getaway Car. (Obviously a fan of Thomas Stearns, Taylor also borrowed Matt Nathanson's line 'I'll forget about you long enough/To forget why I need to' from his song I Saw for her song "All Too Well"... except she replaced his 'need' with her 'needed'.)
Where was I going with all this? Oh yes! It's that we have more music instantly available to us — and better equipment to reproduce it — than at any time before in history, yet because of methods used to deliver it, the quality of that music is severely compromised.
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