Culture

Goodbye, shelf full of music

cd collection

Last night, I sold my entire CD collection. I think the first moment when I realized how fucking weird the whole thing felt was when I piled it into a duffel bag, taking pictures of all the spines for an eventual, probably inevitable Tumblr nostalgia project. For years I’ve toted around my albatross of a shelf, packed to the brim with albums I haven’t listened to in years in their physical form. It was always the one thing that never quite fit in my various apartments/on-campus living spaces, the one thing I always just kind of shoved into a corner to be rarely acknowledged. When it was, people were usually drunk and making fun of me for still actually owning Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue.

The “why” behind this quite pivotal decision isn’t all that important, at least to me; in this case it’s for vacation money, but there have been many “why”s in the past few years. As I’ve finally adopted the miracle of an 80gb iPod, a miracle that has allowed me to stop toting albums like The Best of Toto around in my coat pockets, this was an inevitable step sooner or later. My only significant rule was that I’d be damned if I’d give my collection up out of broke-ass desperation. A lover of music does not concede the hard-shelled, tangible evidence of his evolution as a listener just because the ComEd bill was particularly high one month. Even as I write this, the full ramifications of what I’ve done are starting to set in. To steal a phrase from one of the many albums I’ve parted with, I guess this is growing up.

I’m far from the first person to pose this question, but why does it suck so much? I’m something of a whore for aesthetics (I will never, ever buy a Kindle or any such e-reader on that basis), but I’m also something of a pragmatist, especially when I’m broke. I hoard, but when the time comes, I’m open to parting with things I don’t particularly need. There’s also the tricky point of much of my CD purchasing coming from a time before I had enough music afficionados in my life to barter and trade for stuff, and much of the music that I own from my physical copy heyday is stuff I really don’t listen to. For instance, my edited version of Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water hasn’t entered my rotation in some time, and primarily serves as a reminder that I once not only played that thing on a daily basis, but thought it made me pretty fucking cool.

More than anything, I point to the arbitrary memories associated. For a long time now I’ve had this really strange paranoia regarding amnesia, and given that my memory is mostly centered around pop culture minutiae, it’s been difficult for me to imagine sacrificing what could be the key triggers to unlocking my memories should I ever have a stroke or something. I don’t particularly like Angie Aparo’s album The American, but I can distinctly remember seeing the video for his song “Spaceship” on VH1 when I was eight years old and experiencing whatever level of existential angst/contemplation an eight-year-old from the middle class suburbs of Chicago could wrap his tiny brain around. I look at Linkin Park’s Reanimation, and I see both a wildly mediocre remix album and a reminder of the time I attempted to roller blade for three miles round trip to the nearest Circuit City with a crisp twenty in my pocket, freshly earned from the early days of my teenage lawn care career.

I’m moved to recall albums I not-so-subtly placed in stereos when courting a nice female. (Pro tip, from experience: The Good Life’s Album of the Year should never be in said rotation. If you can think of a sadder way to reach an erection, let me know.) I can recall finally discovering Pinkerton years after all my friends, and marveling at the gift Rivers Cuomo once had for putting my own heartbreak in perspective, because at least I wasn’t having as much miserable sex as he was. Once, I bought Jawbreaker’s Dear You just because a girl I was into happened to be wearing a shirt with the album’s cover on it. Raised in a relatively sheltered house, I distinctly recall being awed at the oevure of Epitaph Records, a new den of pure magic that allowed me to take in all the uses of “fuck” that my parent-mandated clean versions withheld from me for such a long time.

As I packed these coils of memory into a single bag, intending to drag them up the sidewalk to a record store that would hopefully land them in the hands of other young teenagers awed at the spectacle of five-dollar classic albums, I just really hoped that I wouldn’t come to kick myself in five years’ time for sparing these. When I was eight, I demanded petulantly that my mother allow me to sell her NES, with zapper gun and classic collection, for eight booster packs of Pokemon cards. I recall her arguing with me until I wore her down to a frustrated nub with my indignant demands for a Charizard; at that time, I saw it as the key to being able to relate to anybody my age. Now, I spare another touchstone, with the hope that I won’t end up coming home from a wine drunk and solemnly pouring my leftover alcohol out for my now-empty albatross of a shelf.

Well, I guess this is growing up.

  • Suzi Doll

    This is interesting to me, because I have no nostalgia for my CDs. However, when I lost my record albums in a divorce, it was tough. Perhaps it has something to do with the format one comes of age with. Also, the music one buys represents one’s taste and identity–the CD or album collection is an outward expression of who we are. Also each CD or album has its own memories and personal context associated with it. It’s tough to pitch one’s memories. With albums, the cover art was often important; there were photographers or artists admired for their album art. History and pop culture was reflected in the cover art and liner notes (by great writers and experts) of albums.¬† Downloading music has none of the cultural or personal associations of albums or CDs. Along those lines, I have my father’s collection of 78’s of original Hank Williams and old-school country artists. I can’t play them, but the memories they evoke are worth toting them around. I feel sorry for adolescents or 20-somethings¬† who know only downloading. They missed out on so much.

  • Pingback: Goodbye, Shelf Full of Music « In Our Words()

  • Twiggy Cochina

    Physical media is the best I wouldn’t trade my CD’s or records for anything