The Song: "Going to California," Led Zeppelin. Words & music by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Track 7 of Led Zeppelin IV, 1971.
How/when acquired: Purchased MP3, 2002.
I've never been a Led Zeppelin fan. I can admire much of the music objectively, but most of it has never connected with me. It's Big Swinging Dick music, and nothing summed up my feelings better than the Viking kittens version of "Immigrant Song."
Still, context is everything. Over Thanksgiving 2001 my cousins, friends and I rented a cabin in Yosemite, and spent the weekend eating, drinking, hiking, drinking and consoling each other and ourselves for the losses of that terrible autumn. Our friend Hugh, a professional film editor (among other things), recorded a lot of it on video, and cut it together to make a short film. This song was the soundtrack for shots of us hiking a mountain trail. I had never really listened to it before, but it was perfect for the purpose, wistful and hopeful at the same time.
I've always said that California is the American version of the French Foreign Legion. It's what we do when we can't think what to do next, when our hearts are permanently broken and our dreams disappointed for what seems to be the last time. A voice deep within us says, Move to California. Things will be better there. California is the end of the line, the American dream distilled.
This afternoon I'm going to California for the final weekend of The Mystery Bookstore. It's a trip I can't afford to make, but can't afford not to. I'd no more miss it than I'd skip a family funeral.
Posting's been scarce the last couple of weeks, and I realized this morning that it's because I've been spending so much time and energy filtering what I say about all of this. I am sad and I am angry. I'm angry about a lot of things that can't be changed or fixed, and won't be helped by anything I say.
This much, however, I do want to say. The Mystery Bookstore had thousands of people on its electronic mailing list, thousands of people who got its newsletter every month and the updates once a week. These newsletters included lists of forthcoming books, plot summaries and recommendations from booksellers. They were free to anyone who asked for them, part of the cost of doing business. I wrote them, not for free but for a pittance, for an hourly rate barely above the minimum wage.
And the vast majority of people who got those newsletters — the vast majority, it's not an exaggeration — took that information and those recommendations and bought online.
Money is tight. I understand that better than most. But in this online era where "content wants to be free," it still costs money to produce content. People's time is worth money. People's expertise is worth money. In the old model, sales were the reward for that time and expertise. Now it's taken for granted, and nothing supports it. People will say it's no longer even necessary; the work I used to do for an hourly wage is now done for free by book bloggers whose only compensation might be free books. If people are willing to do work for free, it makes no sense to pay anyone for it, no matter how little you're paying. Right?
Maybe that's true. What I know is true is that we pay for the things we value, and what we don't pay for, we don't value. What we don't value goes away. If we really don't value it, we don't miss it.
But I'll miss The Mystery Bookstore.
The Mystery Bookstore will close for good on Monday, January 31. I'll be there on Saturday afternoon for the last formal event, when T. Jefferson Parker signs his latest book, BORDER LORDS, and I'll be there most of the day on Monday. Almost everything in the store is currently discounted by 35%, and many older hardcovers have been marked down to a dollar. The store is at 1036-C Broxton Avenue in Westwood, and ample parking is available in the structure above the store.