Wednesday, November 18, 2009


As a consequence of living in a big city with limited space, I've been trying to get rid of things I don't really absolutely need. And sad to say, (actually I don't feel all that sad about it to be totally honest) CDs are on that list.
I've been ripping them all over the last week or so and have had a few recurring thoughts.

One: They already feel like artifacts of a past that we have just left behind. They already feel outdated and are therefore sad-making things. They seem like all-too-real metaphors of the collapse of an earlier era.

Two: these things really are pieces of crap. What were we/"they" thinking? The utterly disposable and replaceable plastic cases break all time and just piss you off. CDs were designed to save a failing industry. Read the first few chapters of "Appetite for Self-Destruction" to learn the details of the sordid tale. It does make me appreciate digipaks and people who actually spent the money and took to the time to add something to the visual experience. Liner notes, lyrics etc. I have found myself hesitating for a moment before ultimately tossing these into the bin with all the other plastic flotsam and jetsam.

Three: As a result I don't really feel much emotional attachment to them. Looking at some of these CDs does remind me of when I got them, or bands/artists I once knew and toured with etc. but I do feel like I can easily let go of these pieces of plastic and be done with it. Much less so with vinyl. Maybe it's just the fact that I owned vinyl in my younger, formative years and now when I buy vinyl it is the result of a long selective process. But I also think a lot of this has to do with the fact that albums are sturdier. Maybe it's because I know that the creation of CDs (even though they did introduce some--debatable--audio enhancements) were part of a greedy, cynical ploy on the part of the loathsome major labels whom I have detested for most of my adult life.

Four: For better or worse and very ironically, CDs were the beginning of the digitization of music. Really the beginning of the end of the old guard. As someone who has made a living as a musician/composer and technologist I see good and bad in that. More than anything I see an inevitability in that.

Five: Ripping your CDs really does create a paralyzing freedom in your music collection. It really is your own act of "killing the album" Do I really need the entire album of "Wilco AM?" Don't get me wrong. I love Wilco. I might listen to the mp3s in my itunes at some point. But one thing's for sure. I don't think I'd ever take the CD player out and listen to the CD again. I don't have a dedicated CD player anymore and I hate listening to CDs on my computer because of that whirring sound.

Six: As Devo once observed, "freedom from choice is what you want." I can and probably will delete tracks I never listen to from my hard-drive (if I ever listen to them again). I am freed from the tyranny of the CD! But I actually do want to listen to some of my music the way the artists intended them. So there is something lost. Also, even though I can set my iTunes on randomizer, it's not the same as happening upon a record or CD spine and listening to something I haven't heard in a long time.

Seven: I think a lot of these issues have to do with the overall decline of music. Not just as a business. But as an experience. Granted I'm older and have always been a bit too curmudgeonly and close to the source to ever be a good fan. But truth be said I am as passionate about music as anyone. For some of these reasons, and ones I don't even feel like addressing right now, it's just getting harder to care.

I don't want to end on a total bummer. Music can still have that impact (on me at least) where hearing a new song can literally make my day and transform my experience of the world around me. That still happens to me. Another irony is that I actually do believe that we are living in an era where there is fantastic music all around us. In many ways it feels like there is more great music than ever. (There is, I think more dreadful crap as well but that's modern life for you) It's actually a challenge to find the good stuff.

I do believe that we are living in a transitional period and that the medium is going to change. The change will be both good and bad probably. If I had to bet, I would put my money on ubiquitous, all-encompassing streaming services. Ripping MY collection of MY CDs and archiving MY mp3s is ultimately pretty boring and unsatisfying. Napster in its early days was one of the most exciting things I experienced as a fan. Suddenly I had access to the entirety of the candy store.