• Should I feel dirty after going on a bootleg download binge?

I subscribe to the Lefsetz Letter (you should, too) and a couple of weeks ago Bob Lefsetz wrote rhapsodically about a particular Bad Company performance, specifically “Simple Man” from 1976 in Albuquerque. I had to hear it. I first checked YouTube, but while there were songs from this concert posted, Simple Man was not among them. So I googled Bad Company 1976 Albuquerque, NM. Talk about opening a Pandora’s Box. Not only did I find the BadCo gig, I found about 100 other gigs by various bands and promptly went on a bootleg binge. I bought a membership to Rapidshare and Megaupload and just Got the Fevah! Here’s the question, though: am I breaking the law and robbing rights holders of payment? Yes and yes. So why does this not bother me? After all, I’m the guy at the party who will corner you and explain why downloading music without paying rights holders is illegal and harmful to the music industry. And I’m right, dammit.

But here’s the thing: every boot I’ve downloaded contains only songs I’ve already paid for multiple times. Not only that, but also they are songs for which I have sought out and purchased every legal performance of, live or in studio. In other words, I’m only downloading music I have already paid for in every legal way I can (many times, more than once) but I still want MORE. So I guess that makes me an outlaw and a scourge of humanity according to the RIAA. Further, a lot of the bands I’m downloading music by would cringe to know that their unscrubbed, less-than-perfect performances are being listened to over and over and over and over (I’ve already listened to the Simple Man performance Lefsetz cited about 100 times). But it’s the flaws the make these recordings perfect.

In the end, I don’t feel guilty. Or very much like an outlaw. I feel like a fan, someone who is willing to go the extra mile to seek out every great performance possible of bands I love. Further, unlike a lot of bootleg collectors, I only want the stuff with great sound quality and great performances. I’m not interested in historic gigs if they sound historically horrible. As a result, I seek out soundboard or FM broadcasts and always try to get lossless files (although, I am fine with high-quality MP3, meaning anything above 128 Kbps). I wish there were a legal option, namely, I wish more bands would do what Dylan has done and release archival stuff, but so far, very few have. And so I am pushed to the fringes, I say!

Wait, there is one legal option I know of. It’s called Wolfgang’s Vault, and it is packed with KILLER performances (both sound and video!) of some of rock’s greatest acts. If you’re not feeling like strapping on some six shooters and riding into dens of boots, just go to Wolfgang’s. But be prepared to listen and listen and watch and listen and search and listen and watch and basically lose your day.