Your CD collection, that array of disks you collected that have soundtracked growing up, your love life, going out and now staying in. Should you just bin them? I ask this as someone with skin in the game. I own about 7000, 6000 of which are not neatly boxed in the attic, the entire attic. In ways they are my life, but in this streaming age, are they just landfill?
I say ‘landfill’ because recently a neighbour was getting work done, and asked had I anything he might use to fill in the spaces between the bricks. ‘Old stones, broken paving, anything with mass,’ he asked. ‘Something that weighs a ton and is worthless,’ I was trying to imagine what might fit this bill when suddenly and without warning, my neatly boxed CD collection flashed before my eyes.
I had to lie down. That CD collection and I have history. And if music can act as a type of diary, where songs vividly bring back certain moments in your life then I am the Samuel Pepys of the music world.
For instance, Sparks, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough,’ transports me to the steps of my parent’s house in Drimnagh in 1974, we are listening to Fab 208 and I can smell the summer. REM’s Perfect Circle puts me in a room in Detroit in 1984 visiting my best friend. Radiohead’s 'Nice Dream' puts me back in my old VW Golf, a late night drive with my now-wife saying "you’ve played that five times!"
And then there was collecting them. Finding The Band’s Stage Fright for $5 in a shop in Portland, or getting promo copies of Jellyfish, The Smithereens and The Replacements at radio stations in the states. Scouring Bleeker Bob's, or Tower in LA. And then going to work in radio, where they were (whisper it) free.
Free or not, they were treasured. I developed a system of numbering the main ones, and laboriously entering them in a database. The others were sorted alphabetically but separated by Irish and International. Separate piles too for Film Soundtracks, Comedy, Classical, Compilations, and many more.
Slowly I was swamped, surrounded on all sides by albums I loved with irrational passion. I would sometimes put shows together by just letting my eyes wander over them lustfully. Pulp’s 'His ‘N’ Hers', Ryan Adams' 'Heartbreaker', Fleet Foxes' debut, Kate Bush live. It was bliss.
But time moved on. MP3s arrived. I railed a bit, insisting on CD or high quality sound files for the show. The MP3s were edged out by streaming, but It still seemed safe enough for the CD. And then CD-quality streaming arrived! It was getting hard to ignore. The CDs, now squeezed even by vinyl, was getting used less and less.
It was fitting that what may come to be seen as the final blow to CDs sounds like a music format itself: We had FLAC files, MP3s and WAV files. The suddenly we had Covid-19. The show was suddenly 100% digital. It had no moving parts. CD players suddenly looked like floppy disk drives.
I decided to seize the moment and sort the CDs. With Margaret Glaspy’s 'Killing What Keeps Us Alive' - how apt - on heavy rotation, I got to it. It was emotional, seeing CDs, often by bands who never really sold much but whose vision, artistry or exuberance had once made my heart soar: The Marbles, Future Kings of Spain, The Beautiful Trees, Interference, Joe Chester, Engine Alley, Gemma Hayes, The Frames, it just went on.
There was something about each of them. Albums recorded at that point in their lives when everything was young, the world at their feet, the music pouring out of them. The ‘Charity Shop’ pile stayed tiny, the ‘Must Keep’ pile grew and grew. Margaret Glaspy became exhausted.
So what to do with all these CDs? I had always thought a day would come when I would have quality time with them. That’s not going to happen is it? And new music just keeps coming!
I am reminded of the words of a Swedish woman I talked to on radio once. She was elderly and of the view that we should tidy up lives and possessions long before we die. We should just hand our children a small envelope with one or two deeply meaningful possessions in it. ‘Death Cleaning’ she called it.
I intend to do this. My envelope will just have a key in it, but It will be the key to a lock up the size of a small house containing 7000 of the greatest recordings of the late 20th and early 21st century! Let them deal with it.