I studied in England the summer of 1998 and spent every weekend at CD shows. You’d pay a pound to go into some tiny room, where guys (always guys) had card tables full of CDs (with some vinyl). The vast majority of the albums were concert bootlegs or singles available only in Europe. And I always walked out with a sackful because they were impossible to get in the U.S. — unless you knew your way around the Internet, which was then mostly for nerds.
In “Searching for Sugar Man,” out today, the Internet puts an end to a mystery that had plagued most of South Africa. The documentary tells of Rodriguez, a ’70s singer who flopped in the U.S. but became a legend in apartheid-era South Africa. Everyone there assumed he had died; it wasn’t until Rodriguez’s daughter found an online bulletin board devoted to uncovering the mysterious cause of her dad’s death (most people assumed suicide) that an entire country learned their Elvis was alive and well and living in Detroit. Mystery solved. Thanks, Internet!
After seeing the movie, I bought Rodriguez’s album “Cold Fact” off of iTunes. It took about six seconds, which was nice. But sometimes I miss looking through dusty CD shops and finding a tinny recording of R.E.M. playing a club in Warsaw under an assumed name. The Internet gives us great stories, but sometimes it does eliminate the possibility of mystery.