By David Michael Newstead.
What does a person carry? What does a person need? A random collection of things. Stuff. The essentials. My forearm is stuck lifting whatever my brain thought was so important. Just in case. In case of what? It rains. Somebody calls. I need something to write on. Lightning strikes. Phone, keys, my wallet. Hunter-gathers carried spears. Soldiers have rifles and canteens. The rest of us? Maybe we don’t need much at all. And much less than we carry.
You must become an old man in good time if you wish to be an old man long.
- BBC: Saudi Arabia’s Bootleg Music Shops
- Rolling Stone: CDs are Dying 3 Times as Fast as Vinyl is Growing
- LA Times: CD Era May Finally Be Entering Its Hospice Stage
- The Guardian: Digital Killed the CD, Will Anyone Mourn It?
- LA Times: Spotify is Fine. But let’s mourn the passing of CDs
- Rolling Stone: The End of Owning Music
By David Michael Newstead.
I remember the first CD I ever bought and I remember the last CD I ever bought. A lot happened in between. Then, one day the era of compact discs was over and done with. It’s strange to think about, but once upon a time CDs seemed so modern and high tech and ubiquitous. They were the standard. They were the way to get music and someone’s collection said an awful lot about them. Even stranger, my formative years revolved around a now dead and wholly unloved technology. But I still appreciate CDs even if its just in the past tense. They are what I had growing up. And while my grandfather had vinyl records and my dad had a box of cassette tapes, I had CDs. Makes me wonder… Maybe each way of experiencing music has a story behind it, evoking some feeling of another time and place. These are a few of mine.
I bought my first CD in 1997: the No Doubt album Tragic Kingdom. More albums followed, of course. Overtime, I accumulated all the accessories: those sleeve booklets, a rotating display rack, a nicer pair of headphones. Throughout high school, my Sony Walkman certainly got a lot of mileage, which makes me wonder what I ever did with that thing? Anyway, all this stuff had to be organized in some kind of way. And looking back, I’m mainly just amazed at the incredible level of commitment I had to my music collection. I mean, I alphabetized my albums by hand. One time in a music store, I was searching for a CD and I didn’t know the name of the artist, just the song. So, I methodically sifted through every alphabetized section until I found the album I evidently wanted so much. It was under the letter “S”.
Music was still a physical object then in a way it isn’t anymore. CDs could be traded or loaned out or stolen. And if they got scratched then that was the end of that. I remember really valuing certain albums like they were this meaningful part of my life. Now, that seems difficult to even explain to someone. I mean, how much can you value what is free and always accessible on streaming? Maybe having that uphill battle to obtain the music you like created some sense of purpose or ownership or rebellion. In high school, a friend once gave me $20 and begged me to buy him a rap CD that his mom wouldn’t allow him to have. Another classmate’s father strongly disapproved of his Billy Joel album (for some goddamn reason) and snapped it in two right in front of him.
Gradually though, things started to change: Napster, iPods, etc. and the CD began its long descent into oblivion. Music was no longer an object. It could no longer be owned or controlled. Even so, it’s not like most people just throw away everything they’ve already bought because a new version came along. My CD collection endured for a while longer and maybe the world was slow to adapt too. In 2012, in fact, I stumbled across one of the last operating Sam Goody stores. I was in complete shock and immediately texted pictures of it to my friends to prove I wasn’t making it up. Was this chain even still in business, I wondered. And if so, how? The store’s interior was even more perplexing. It was as if the entire business model hadn’t changed in 15 years, displaying racks and racks of CDs, DVDs, and posters like some time capsule from the late 1990s. But by March of that same year, the inevitable finally caught up with them and the store closed for good.
The last CD I bought was in 2013. By that point, it didn’t make sense to still buy them, but there I was doing it anyway. CDs just had a look and a feel. Maybe it was nostalgia on my part. I don’t know. It was Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. I still have it, in fact. I have my copy of Tragic Kingdom too and a couple of other albums that seemed like they were worth keeping. Are these relics now? Personal mementos? The random embodiment of some memory? I can’t say for sure. Music is different now and what I have accumulated over the years is spread across different formats and online accounts from throughout my life. It seems like everything is going in this weird circle and if vinyl records are now a luxury item, then maybe one day my CDs will be cool again too. Maybe.