In the Arts & Books section of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Pop Music Critic Randall Roberts writes of his sprawling collection of LPs and 45s, numbering in the thousands. He has CDs–he says 3,000–that he’s “…reasonably ambivalent about but haven’t figured out what to do with.” He has tapes he “…once tried to throw away but retrieved from the dumpster a few hours later.” He has MP3s he has “…no emotional attachment to whatsoever.” He has trouble getting rid of this stuff; it obviously represents a huge chunk of his life, and it appears he has emotional attachments even where he doesn’t think he has.
Our old vinyls and CDs number in the low hundreds, and none of them are historical treasures. We have perhaps a dozen cassette tapes somewhere. I have about 3000 songs in my digital music library, many of them ripped from our vinyl and CD collection. We have way less reason than a pop music critic to keep ninety percent of our non-digital library; nonetheless, we do.
Why? Memories, of course. Even our bad music choices has a story. Why we bought it, when, and who we listened to it with. Anecdote: Back when I was dating my husband, we reached a turning point, that moment in which I knew our relationship was for real, and would lead to marriage. It was the moment I decided not to buy any record albums I knew he already had. His records and mine would, I knew, become ours in short order. And so it happened. We had quite a few duplicates to give away.
Our CDs never had quite the emotional pull as that teen-to-twenties vinyl collection; nonetheless they are difficult to get rid of as well. The artists we listened to in the eighties fall along a kind of cusp, spanning vinyl to disc. The decade began for us with the murder of John Lennon, and it ended with the birth of our daughter. I believe our first CD was Graceland. We had purchased the vinyl already, but wanted this great album in the new format. Then we watched as, in the space of months, CDs replaced vinyl completely. Discs began to pile up in our house, outgrowing CD tower after CD tower.
Our collection continued to grow in the 90s, but often through reissues to replace our vinyl. We bought new material too, but mostly from artists we already knew. Bob Dylan’s World Gone Wrong was an early nineties favorite for me. It was a difficult time to find new music, though. An Alt Rock station would be born; an alt rock station would turn into an all-news Spanish language station. Our friends didn’t seem to be interested in new stuff; we had little help from word-of-mouth. Yet, every Sunday morning, we would put on CDs and listen to music while we read the paper. For a while, the Calendar section had phone numbers you could call to sample music they’d reviewed. Nice idea, but the sound quality? Bad, bad.
The century turned, and our music world exploded. Figuratively, but truly. ITunes, MP3, podcasts, satellite and internet radio, and our daughter’s developing musical taste. We lack the need to save anything we buy now, but we still collect CDs of a sort–we burn each other discs for birthdays, Mothers’ Day, etc. We know very well we can share files without the disc, but we make it anyway. Music doesn’t bring us together like it used to, in the sense that we but on a disk and turn up the volume for all to hear. I remember, for instance, going over to friends’ apartments to listen to a new record. No. We all walk around with our individual earbuds and individual playlist/soundtracks. It may be that burning those discs is what we need to do to share. And no, we can’t seem to get rid of those either.
Next: Part II of Words, Pictures, and Music