On twentieth-century media

The Awl: The Golden Age Of Hipper-Than-Thou CD Fetishization Begins Now.

See, I’ve still got my old stereo, and I’ve been hoarding all the CDs I bought or burned between the ages of 13 and 24. Sure, they take up a lot of space. Was a bitch to move them out of the old apartment, too, but it’s worth it. This stuff is gold. … We remember Tower Records, man. We were there.

My son (age two) broke my CD player last month. My gorgeous, wonderful, feature-rich, six-disc Pioneer CD changer, which lasted longer in regular use than any other piece of electronics I’ve ever owned, which I loved so much that I bought a matching car CD changer so I could swap the cartridges, which was such a near-perfect device that I actually had the laser realigned in 1996 rather than buy a new one. The day it broke was almost exactly the 20th anniversary of its purchase.

Twenty years is a long time for a piece of stereo equipment, so I’m not all that saddened that it broke. Its passing has thrown me into something of an existential crisis, though.

Do I buy another one?

I mean, I’m an iPod guy through and through. Had one since they first came out. I carry a 160GB iPod Classic in addition to my iPhone. I rarely pop in CDs to listen to casually, and despite my lifelong love affair with record stores, I’ve only physically bought music two or three times in the past couple of years, and they were point-of-sale impulse buys.

On the other hand, I have a lot of discs. More than a thousand. Most of which I’ve never properly digitized, because of the daunting task of burning a thousand CDs. (I perversely burn the albums I least care about, in order to get them out of my apartment, which means my iTunes collection contains a lot of mediocre music and not enough of my old favorites.) When we moved into our current apartment, I had two wall units custom-built for our living room, one of which just houses CDs.

I have been thinking for awhile about digitizing the whole thing and just moving on. But what to do with all that music? I’m something of a collector and I don’t like the idea of throwing away the tangible jewel boxes and liner notes, especially considering how much money, and time, I invested in acquiring them.

But the reality of progress cannot be ignored. I saved 800 cassette tapes and 200 vinyl records in my parents’ house when I moved out in the ’90s, and to date, I’ve listened to roughly 30 of those cassettes and none of the records. The hoarder in me shouts, “But those thirty! And how much is irreplaceable? And what about the next time you need music and forget your iPod? And the bootlegs, man! And imagine if you had to reassemble your metal collection from scratch…!”

Thing is, I have reassembled a lot of my music collection. No matter how much I deny it, I don’t look back much: all those classic rock albums I have on cassette? I don’t even leave those artists on the radio when the local rock radio station plays their songs. We move on.

In an ideal world, I’d find myself at home with two weeks to kill and no one else in the house, and I’d spend a few days pulling all my music–cassettes and all–into a lossless audio format on a two-terabyte hard drive with dual backups. I don’t know if or when that will ever happen, but in the meantime, I may as well admit to progress.

So we’re not replacing the CD player in the component stereo. We will, instead, pop in an iPod cable, so until we get a music server set up we can play tunes without dealing with the laptop. And my son–who, before breaking it, learned how to turn on the stereo and play CDs in the old Pioneer–will be able to bring his iPod into the living room and play his kids’ tunes on his own volition, once he learns to read, that is. And at some point I’ll even purge the living room of physical CDs.

It’s not that the future has arrived. Heck, the future has been here for years. It just took a toddler’s accident for me to formally let go of the past.