Visiting with Willie, thanks to The YouTube Time Machine

I’m a little bit torn about YouTube. First, I don’t really want to give Google any more money. They’ve got enough. And they own enough stuff, I don’t need to give ’em my content so that they can make money off of it.

Then, there’s the guy who spends an entire, amazing concert waving his cell phone in the air, not paying attention to the show and blocking the view of the people behind him. It’s annoying. Live music used to be about living in the moment. Being at a show allowed you to be part of something that only happened once, and never again. If you missed it, it was gone, and there was no real way to get it back or be a part of something that had already happened.

And then there’s the whole copyright issue… People who make the music and create the art should be allowed to control what happens to it, who sees it, and whether Google gets to earn anything off of it or own it in any way.

Some artists just don’t like having their whole lives online. They don’t want every magical spontaneous moment appear online, because it ruins the surprise for the next audience. Sometimes they want to try out new songs and see a genuine, first reaction. Sometimes they want to pull out something special and have you not expect it. Sometimes they just have a bad day and say stupid stuff, and don’t really want the whole world knowing about it. God knows I do.

It’s a bit of a mess and a sticky situation, but there is some pure joy and unbelievable magic that you can check out by jumping into the YouTube time machine. Some moments preserved for posterity online for those who want to relive them or want to be part of something they missed. I hate missing out on magic, and I hate hearing about things that I couldn’t be a part of.

Some good can come from someone recording something they shouldn’t have. Think of all of the times that police and politicians have been caught saying or doing something terrible, and getting caught because someone happened to have a cell phone recording. Think about the crimes that are solved, the mysteries unravelled, and the people helped and saved by some covert video recording. Sometimes someone’s last moments or words can be passed along to their families and friends, from beyond the grave.

And then there’s the complex issue of allowing us access to things that, officially, we’re not allowed. Such is the case with the late, great Willie P Bennett. I’ve ranted, raved, and gone on long about the criminal injustice of having his music unavailable for sale and his brilliant last album never released, because of the foolishness and selfishness of his family. I can only hope that they mean well, but they’re not doing anyone any favours. Many of us have told them so.

During his life, Willie released 6 amazing, influential, and inspiring albums (as well as one very hard to find compilation.) Enough of us have copies, saw him live, and heard the songs, and continue spreading the word, sharing the music, and hoping that some day, he’ll get the widespread attention that he so deserves. Shortly before he died, Willie recorded a live album at Hugh’s Room in Toronto, which apparently is incredible. I’ve never heard that one (if you know how I can get a copy, I NEED to hear from you!) He also came to Winnipeg and recorded an album with Jaxon Haldane. It’s a rough around the edges solo recording. I would imagine he intended to spruce it up a bit, add some other players, and send it out into the world his way.

Sadly, he never got the chance. The rights to it all went to his estate, controlled by his mother and sister. They, for reasons unknown, closed the door to any release of the old or new material. People close to them visit regularly and plant the seed of hope that the music might come out. They always say that they’re working on it. They’ve got plans. It’ll be out in ****. It never comes, and probably never will.

It breaks my heart and makes me mad. As much as I generally object to piracy, this is one of those cases where I’m really, really glad that someone made some illegal copies and spread them around. I’m so glad that it found its way to me. Since then, I’ve made copies of lots of this stuff myself. If you want to hear it, we can talk. Now, if there were a legal way for you to get it, I’d gladly direct you.

Here: there’s one album available on iTunes. I bet that’s because his family doesn’t know about iTunes. Click here to enjoy. It’s a little overproduced, as a couple of them surely were, but it’s got some all-time classic songs that you need to hear.

And then of course there’s the YouTube Time Machine, where you can go and hear lots of the music and see the man perform live. Today, I stumbled upon a great show where Willie talks extensively about life and songwriting. He also performs some stunning songs. Although it’s not high quality, not officially authorized, and not the same as having him around, it sure is great to see, hear, and enjoy. That’s the magic of YouTube, and the reason why, despite its drawbacks, YouTube is an amazing, essential service. Thanks!

Of course, there’s plenty more magic where that came from. Leave a comment and let me know about any of your favourite trips in the YouTube Time Machine. What else do I need to see? Let me know below!

Leave a Reply