Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Face the music

This week we are making room for the babies who will soon be here. We are rearranging our apartment, clearing out space in the back room that will be the babies' room. One of the things that occupies this room and which must be relocated is my CD collection. So it is with a mixture of sadness and delicious sentimentality that I have been "archiving" my CD's, putting the booklets and CDs into large notebooks, and the digipaks and jewel cases into boxes to be stored away.
I've been making and collecting music for the past twenty years or so. This means that most of the creative output of the musicians in my world, my friends and collaborators, is represented by shiny little discs. My music and that of my peers exists exactly in the era between the time when the CD first became the standard, and the present time, in which digital media is king and the CD is on the verge of obsolescence. So I have a big collection of CD's, and they mean a lot to me. Each one is a little time capsule and a magical window into a world that existed with perfect technicolor clarity. For me, the entire CD is part of the package, including the CD itself, the front and back cover, the booklet, the spine, all of it. So it a lttle painful to separate CDs into two parts.
Many of my CDs have inscriptions or autographs. This one on the left is from Vic Chesnutt, with whom I had the good fortune to play a series of concerts in New York in 200?. We rehearsed for three days in the Brooklyn basement of fellow musician T. Griffin, and then we played three shows. He paid us a very small amount, we were all thankful to be playing with one of our heroes. About a week after the shows were over and Vic had gone home to Athens, GA, I received a package of CDs in the mail. He had sent me his entire discography, every single CD signed in his shaky hand (he was wheelchair-bound and had only partial use of his right hand). I will always treasure these mementos of a time, and an artist, who are no longer with us.

And since the advent of the CD in the early 90's came at the expense of the vinyl record, many of the artists in my collection had a very ambivalent and even adversarial relationship with the CD as a medium. As they started to become the standard, CDs were considered evil and insidious by indie rockers, sonic purists, and hipsters (as they still are.) They were considered a ploy by the music industry to justify raising prices. Most featured an overabundance of packaging, making them extremely wasteful as well as over-priced. And compared to vinyl records, which emphasized the low end and added a level of compression and warmth, CDs were bright, sparkly, and cold. This Drive Like Jehu CD, called Yank Crime, came out in 1991. The only thing written on it, besides the record label info, is "CD's REALLY FUCKING BLOW."

And even my promo CDs have some eerie resonance. These two promo David Bowie CD's (which I think were given to me by someone who worked at his label) are stamped with the projected release date. Christiane F. was a soundtrack album originally release in 1981. All Saints was a compilation that originally came out in 1993. Both had the distinction of being re-released on September 11, 2001.