What We Lost In The Move

When I was a young'un, there was a record store near my high school that had a bargain bin of $1 CDs. This was in the mid-nineties, before records gained their retro charm and Vinyl Guys hadn't begun their full onslaught into the pop culture consciousness. Blank cassettes were still available at the corner store, and trading mix tapes remained the best way for us to Express Ourselves and our never-before-felt feelings. But if you wanted it fresh and piping hot from the studios, CDs were the most plentiful and preferred option.

We bought a lot of music from that place with absolutely no context. There was no listening station, and no real patience for truant freshmen, so we would paw through the jewel cases and size up our haul based on album art alone. A buck meant I could kill an hour later that night with eyes closed and headphones on, taking a quick audio jaunt that someone felt should be committed to a mixing board.

A lot of those albums eventually became coasters for the shitty apartments we'd rent later. Or they were forgotten in the trunks of cars so broken down that only the scrapyard would take them. They were pressed into the steel flesh of a steed that had given up the ghost, only to elicit an "Oh FUCK!" when we realized what we had left behind. All those short-run pressings from local bands who needed to fill a merch table, gone forever, like tears in the rain. The classics that had been loved so thoroughly that you could see which tracks the laser had practically carved a groove into, pulverized to microplastic. And there was always the strange miscellania that came with "I need to sell my music collection because I need money Right Now" fading to vague memory since the case from the dollar bin had no liner notes.

It was never tragic enough to head back to the scrapyard for a rescue operation. MP3s had arrived, and nobody wanted a giant book of scratched up plastic when they could just stockpile files. We told ourselves we'd sit down and rip everything to high-quality audio and store it, and sometimes we even followed through. But, like most data backup strategies, it was rarely the case that we got around to it. Some of it was replaceable, some of it wasn't. Eventually, streaming services recognized the efficiency in digital media and promptly laid claim to its benefits while offloading all of the shortcomings. Music fans were targeted by lawsuits. The industry as a whole decided that music fans were no longer entitled to agency with their purchases. Now it's all licensing and rent extraction, a cultural heritage that only belongs to corporations.

When I bought a CD for a buck from a music shop, I knew that money went to the music lovers who ran the shop, or it went to the local band who was selling their demo on consignment, or it at least backfilled the money paid out to whoever sold their collection. Now, the buck I spend on music gets pulverized into micropennies, a wisp of which are scattered at the feet of the artists that who actually created the art while the middlemen gorge themselves on the bulk of it, convincing themselves that they've somehow provided value.

Part of me misses physicality of the Album. I'm sure part of this comes from a rose-tinted nostalgia, because everyone rememebers the music of their adolesence as timeless, regardless of what it was or how it was delivered. And I know that there's a little bit of Get-Off-My-Lawn in the reminiscing. I am certainly earning the wages of the middle-aged, confident that there were prog rock purists at the time that hated CDs because you could skip tracks with the push of a button. There will always be the Olds who claim that their way was better than the way the Youngs are doing it. But that same part of me knows that stacks of plastic wafers is a terrible way to distribute media, and that the digital age has ushered in a way to amass media that leaves less detritus in the oceans. The tragedy is in the enclosure of the commons, the capture of culture by a great monstrous machine that knows nothing about its actual value.

I've wanted that feeling back for a long time now. The thrill of discovery, the hunt for auditory transcendence Wanted it badly enough to seriously consider becoming my generation's version of a Vinyl Guy, scouring online marketplaces for fresh CD copies of everything in my music collection. But I'm not that jaded quite yet, nor am I willing to abandon my wide-eyed love of the digital age and all of its promise.

(110DTO - 3/100)