Keep Napster fun -- shut it down!

Illicit pleasures are the best kind. If the court approves MP3 trading, what kind of rebel will I be?

Published October 12, 2000 7:30PM (EDT)

Now that the fate of Napster and its 30 million users is at stake, it's time to cut through all that legal mumbo jumbo about copyright infringement and injunctive relief. If the judges on the appeals court declare Napster legal, they'll be removing the last vestiges of illicit fun from our lives. And we need our vices and addictions now more than ever. So we must beg the judges to do the right thing. They must shut down Napster.

I willingly admit to being a Napster addict. I Napster when I'm at my computer. I Napster when I walk by the computer; I walk by the computer just to Napster. I Napster first thing in the morning and last thing at night. When I'm asleep, my subconscious takes over and Napsters for me, regularly waking me up with hazy memories of long-forgotten tunes.

I've been told by an addiction-recovery expert that I'm in Stage 4, the final and most severe stage of Napster addiction, which entails "Distortions in Thinking, Most Notably Denial." (No way am I in Stage 4!) I've supposedly already passed through the prior three stages, which involved "Impaired Control Over Napstering," "Preoccupation With Napstering" and "Napstering Despite Adverse Consequences."

Yes, I'm an addict, but an addict with a mission: to create a new form of memoir, an MP3 catalog of the songs of my generation. My library represents all genres, from country to punk to disco to rap. It contains original recordings and covers, slick productions and basement tapes, in-studio sessions and live concerts. I've downloaded rare recordings or one-hit wonders I'd always loved but had never owned, or were buried in the piles of warping records discarded in a corner of my dank, musty basement -- songs like Roy Orbison's "Crying" (a killer version he sings with k.d. lang), "I Love You More Today Than Yesterday" by Spiral Staircase, "The Things We Do for Love" by 10CC and a blended-harmony version of the Sam Cooke song "What a Wonderful World," sung by Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor. I've got girl groups and boy groups, teen idols and pioneers of rock 'n' roll, rappers and Rat Packers. And Barry Manilow.

It wasn't always this way. Before I became an addict, searching for the songs of my youth on, downloading them into my personal library and playing them over and over again were simple affairs that made me enormously, irrationally, deliriously happy. After all, I'm part of the techno-nostalgic boomer generation, and as any advertiser of convertibles or iMacs knows, give us a product or service that blends our longing for the '60s (the only decade that has ever mattered) with technological innovation and we're there. It's as if there had been no race riots, no body counts on the nightly news and no political assassinations during those glory days. All we remember are trips to the beach or park on endless summer days in our daddies' Caddy convertibles, with the top down and the AM radio blasting "Good Lovin'."

Shawn Fanning, the teenage developer of Napster, probably never expected it to have such huge appeal to boomers. But it's custom-made for us. Our generation wants what it wants, and we think we deserve to have it. But we also need to think of ourselves as good people -- and with Napster, we can have both. We can tell ourselves that we're committing a victimless crime or, even better, that the only victims are corporate giants and superstars who can afford to have their copyrights infringed. After all, most of these artists are already bazillionaires, and we've been supporting their drugged-out, limo-driven, multimansion, paternity-lawsuit lifestyle for years. As for the record companies, they're just plain greedy, and you know they're planning to use Napster as an excuse to raise the price of CDs and then conveniently blame us.

Napster also helps us feel forever young. (Note to self: Search for Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart songs of the same title.) By downloading MP3 files off the Internet instead of venturing into a record store, we're protected from some of the humiliations of aging, like finding out from the HMV sales guy -- the one with pierced eyebrow and tongue -- that not only doesn't the store carry "Julie, Do Ya Love Me?" by former teen idol Bobby Sherman, it doesn't have a Bobby Sherman section, there are no Sherman CDs in the "Various Artists Starting With S" section and the guy has never even heard of Bobby Sherman.

But while there are dozens of reasons for enjoying Napster, there is only one explanation for its addictive powers. All the great addictions that have grabbed the members of my generation by the throat, throttled us and made us choke on our own desire have had one quality in common: They've all been illicit.

Think about it. Remember sneaking out to your boyfriend's or girlfriend's house when the parents were away, or to the football stands to smoke a joint, or to a Led Zeppelin stadium concert -- each time telling your parents you were sleeping over at your best friend's house? Remember how exhilarating it was? Now, ask yourself, honestly: Was the sex really that hot, or did your boyfriend's tongue just feel like a slab of salami in your mouth? Was the high that amazing, or were you simply giggling at dumb jokes and munching on stale Fritos? Did the concert really rock, or did it leave you reeling from a three-day migraine? Maybe the reason you felt so pumped by these experiences was not because you actually enjoyed them; maybe it was because you were doing something you shouldn't.

What happens when our illicit activities become permissible? When we fight against society's restrictions and win? When we grow up and can set our own rules? I'll tell you what happens: Things stop being fun. Our generation is plagued by the paradox that once we get what we want, we no longer want it so badly. The illicitness that once charged sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll has been exorcised from them, leaving us stripped of our addictive-behavior identity and stranded in a politically correct wasteland of herbal remedies and kripalu yoga.

Enter, Napster. Just when you thought you'd spend the rest of your life consigned to indoor sex, medically prescribed antidepressants and repeated listenings of "The Eagles Greatest Hits," Napster saved us by restoring illicit activity to our lives. Suddenly, we're engaging in music piracy! We might be individually sued by the recording industry, held up as a cautionary example for other music freeloaders. We're rock 'n' roll rebels again!

And so I implore the judges on behalf of Napster addicts everywhere: Don't legitimize Napster; don't take away our fun. Even if it means we end up as MP3 nomads, traveling from one music site to another until they've all closed down camp, we'll accept this as our fate. But you must shut Napster down.

By Meta Wagner

Meta Wagner is a freelance writer who specializes in social commentary when not downloading '60s rock tunes.

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Intellectual Property