Despite the fact that I largely grew up in the Computer Age, I’m still mourning for one casualty of the transition to digital.
No, hipsters, I’m not reminiscing about records. I grasp the attraction to physical audio, the romance in caressing harmony out of what are otherwise a few circular grooves etched in vinyl. But by the time I was brought into the world, CDs were the medium of choice — for me, records were already long antique, like any other obsolete technology — I’ve never gotten nostalgic about floppy disks.
Ironically, the tragedy in the absence of physical music isn’t the lack of physical copies, so much as the lack of physical collections. I admit that mobile libraries are vastly superior; there’s no question — I just have a soft spot for the once-treasured “record collection.”
When I was little, there was no greater joy than to watch a visitor admire my father’s sizable collection of CDs. Being a music critic himself back in the day (obligatory “like father, like son”), he had amassed a hoard of discs. Through careful collection, he was able to show off an extensive glass case packed with plastic and vinyl.
The selection did more than impress. It was truly the only way anyone could understand my father’s musical opinion — a stranger could watch him listen to Christina Aguilera, then Foo Fighters and then Kansas, and conclude he had no discernable taste. But I would eventually understand that the case was a timeline, a testament to his avid passion for music.
It’s weird to think that, because of the advent of computers, I’ll never have a physical representation of my music taste. Being able to download my new jams has brought me a broader enjoyment than I ever could have expected, but I miss the shiny, tantalizing plastic wrap of new releases. I miss bringing home one or two new additions to a small-but-growing collection of my own. I miss planning my purchases like I was building a musical nest for the future.
That’s not to say that I don’t buy CDs anymore — I’ll still occasionally fork over hard-earned cash to support my favorite artists. Yet the first thing I do with my purchase is upload it into my music library, thus taking away whatever attachment I could have with the CD itself.
There is a scene in “High Fidelity” where John Cusack, after a rough breakup with his longtime girlfriend, sits alone in his apartment, surrounded by his records. A friend visits him and is struck with awe when he realizes that Cusack means to organize his collection in chronological order of his own life.
When I originally watched the movie, I fantasized about doing this one day, when I was old enough to have accumulated such a monument to music. I’d set aside Cake’s Comfort Eagle for the early teen days I spent living in California, and slot Jack Johnson’s Sleep Through the Static next to the breezy music of my senior year in high school. One day, I had determined, my life would sit on the CD racks around my bedroom.
But just like everything else, computers have taken the personality out of such a personal endeavor. Instead of fondly recalling the album that I would eventually use for my application to the Daily’s Music beat, I can now just look it up: The Orchard by Ra Ra Riot, added Oct. 4, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.
Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy the countless benefits that owning a digitized music library has afforded me. I love that I can point and click when I need to hear those booming drums at the beginning of “When The Levee Breaks,” instead of rifling through my albums and fumbling with a record player.
And, luckily, the best part of a good record collection — the colorful patchwork quilt of countless album covers packed together — largely remains preserved through iTunes. My friends have never seemed to understand why, after getting new music, I must immediately add the corresponding artwork.
I don’t anticipate most of them understanding it on the same level (as musically elitist as that sounds). As much as they like music, I’ve never seen them spend a whole day acquiring new songs or perusing the latest album releases.
Because, underneath it all, audiophiles are more than music lovers — we’re music hoarders. Just like those poor souls in the creepy reality TV show, we can never seem to let go. We’re packrats, constantly squirreling away teeming piles of old playlists for the next new thing.
In the end, I’m just sad that those mountains of music I’ve accumulated won’t eventually become a collection big enough to rival my father’s. I’ll never get the same reaction from a visitor upon witnessing a browser window of my music library.