By the time you read this, I'll probably be gone. No, I hope I won't be dead, but rather, I will likely have moved a mile from the house I've rented for the last 18 months to what my girlfriend calls "our forever home," or the first house we're buying.
But my CDs might actually be dead, or, at the very least, relocated to second homes or the Acheron-like reservoir of used disc bins scattered across the region's record stores. For the last four weeks, I've been wading through the 12,000 or so compact discs I've accumulated since I purchased my first in 1992—The Bodyguard soundtrack, if you must know—from a well-lit department store in Charleston, S.C.
Every few days, I make the rounds with another set of boxes, going from store to store and accumulating credit that I then spend on records or, occasionally, a CD box set for which I've long looked. By the end of the process, I expect to have sold about 90 percent of the discs; I have ripped some of them to my hard drive, simply decided I will never need to hear others and replaced several with their vinyl equivalents. It is the wonderful act of purging then binging, rediscovering to discover something new.
The timing couldn't be better. Not only does it mean we'll have less bulk to move later this week, but it's also allowed me to think about the records I've loved and hated and the phases and crazes of listening I've outgrown—essentially, to reconsider most of the music I've ever heard, at least between 1992 and 2008, when my CD buying trickled toward asymptotic nil.
Right now, those sounds and memories can often get lost in the music-industry din. For the past two weeks, especially, the debate over paying for music and intellectual property online festered, thanks largely to a well-meaning, disturbingly frank essay by NPR intern Emily White, who'd paid for very little music in her life despite having a sizable collection of songs. "But I honestly don't think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience," she wrote, making the plain truth about how youth often listen to and obtain music personal, powerful and—lo and behold—NPR-official.
The kerfuffle that followed alternately amused, intrigued, informed and infuriated. David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker attempted to tie the morality of it all (reductively, stealing is wrong and has caused some of his dear friends to commit suicide) to the math of it all (this is how much you owe musicians, Ms. Intern). The requisite retorts were hits and misses, with some saying that this wasn't about good versus bad and others somewhat agreeing with Lowery but ultimately concluding that the situation was simply beyond salvation. Personally, I'm closer to the latter camp. I'm 29, so CDs were the standard when I started to really dig into music. But Napster hit when I was a high school sophomore, and I was the first person in my small town to have a CD burner. I think that artists should be compensated, but the old model is exactly that. We're not going to take away the Internet, its access or the expectations of the youngest generation of listeners anytime soon, so arguing about a return to a system that has suffered for a reason seems like a waste of logic. Every box of CDs I tote to its graveyard reminds me of that.
During the last week, names were called, jokes were made and divisions were created among people who at least agreed that music and the future of it were worth an argument. A Village Voice piece this week condensed the conversation into 40 bullet points, the last two of which aptly summarize the exchange's ultimate tone. "Fuck you," wrote Mike Barthel, giving the other side a chance to respond in kind. "Fuck you."
But while sitting on the floor of the house we'll leave this week, pulling discs by bands I'd forgotten out of those massive black Case Logic binders, the vibe is more nostalgic than combative. This is music, after all; putting Neil Young's discography back into its respective cases, I thought about the first time I'd heard him, and how, at that moment, everything felt strange, new and different.
Back then, I'd read the liner notes, memorized them and tried to find out more about these Ben Keith and Linda Ronstadt folks who played with him. So, yes, the physical object that I had purchased meant something then, but I'm getting rid of it now. But that was the way of my childhood, and maybe yours, too. How should I expect the next generation—Emily White's generation—to think of music in the same way, if even I can't stand the clutter anymore?
This article appeared in print with the headline "Ignorant boxes of used bliss."