Confession number one: I still use CDs to listen to music. Not in addition to Spotify, nor in conjunction with a curated iTunes account – I listen to CDs exclusively.
Let the record show I am not trying to be retro, and this is not some sort of proactive choice – I use CDs because it’s what I started with, and the act of changing over to digital always seemed to require more energy than I could muster. You know, like combining your super funds, engaging in a thorough skin regime at the early age your mother insisted, or, in the case of so many Americans, voting*.
Confession number two: It has recently become apparent that I have never thrown out a CD. Ever.
Like a pristine skeleton, or a perfectly preserved mummy, my collection remains untouched – an archaeological find that appears to document the limping evolution of my musical taste.
The beginning of said evolution can be traced back to one pivotal moment.
I was 11 years old when I arrived at boarding school for the first time. I was nervous, excited, shitting myself and generally thrilled all at once. Each item of my clothing had my full name stitched into it (including every individual sock), my uniforms were pressed, my preferred teddy bear was discretely packed, and my unwitting middle class, white privilege was polished to a high gleam.
But my pride and joy, my ace in the hole, my sure-fire ticket to the social summit of high school was the CD collection I carried in its own special bag on my lap for the length of the trip in.
It was 1997. Meredith Brooks was all about the ‘Bitch’, Mariah Carey was all about the ‘Honey’, the Backstreet Boys were all about ‘Everybody’… and I had never heard of any of them.
I was raised on Ella Fitzgerald, Cat Stevens and Babs Streisand. I grew up with Nina Simone in my ear, while Kiki Dee reassured Elton John in my heart. And all of them were stowed in my special little bag (along with cast recordings of Les Miserables, South Pacific and West Side Story). Not only did I pack a Bette Midler album, I was so convinced it would be hot property I labelled both the CD case, and the CD itself.
Thank god high school girls are so historically kind to each other, right?
My first dorm room came with two strangers the same age as myself – Smith and Bruno (before long there was a Podge, a Chum, a Morti, and a Buttles, because sometimes, yes, boarding school is every cliché you could possibly imagine). Almost straight away, I sensed that we did not speak the same musical language.
They spoke fluent Garth Brooks, with accents of Shania Twain. I, in case this wasn’t already screamingly apparent, had inherited all the tastes and inclinations of my middle aged parents.
So I did what any self-respecting pre-teen would do – I hid my special bag of Broadway classics and era-bound divas under a pile of shoes in the bottom of my closet and never spoke of it again. And by sheer, involuntary osmosis, I found myself learning every word of ‘Standing Outside the Fire’.
That was the true beginning of my musical miseducation – the long, stumbling road towards discovering what I actually enjoy listening to. And my untouched CD collection is the time capsule that documents that journey into the heart of darkness, from Britney to Ren & Stimpy (which explains my knowledge of all the lyrics of The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Anthem).
Sorting through the hundreds of CDs has been akin to an anthropological investigation.
Apparently I departed the Jewel train after purchasing 0304, her inexplicable foray into dance music (retrospectively it’s likely she was just Taylor Swifting ahead of her time), it’s entirely possible I believed ‘Roxanne’ was a song originated for the soundtrack of the film Moulin Rouge, and it seems I really, really liked Dido for a couple of years.
This Tutankhamun-esque treasure trove raises far more questions than it answers. Questions like:
- How many times could one teenager buy an album because they liked one song on it, before they learned their lesson? Creed, Wheatus, I am absolutely looking at you.
- Why don’t I recognise anything on this dance album?
- Who is David, and why do I have his copy of Parachutes?
- So much Dido and nothing by the Spice Girls… why?
- Did I really adore Ben Lee’s ‘Gamble Everything for Love’ so much I needed to own both the single and the entire album?
- What could possibly be on the homemade compilation discs I have mysteriously labelled with such descriptive titles as Cool and Mum’s Mix? In the case of the second one… a lot of Dido.
- And above all else, the greatest, single most important question, which continues to haunt my entire generation: Aqua. Question. Mark.
I’m finally forcing myself to do a cull… but, Dido help me, how do I pick? What makes a CD essential? While digital users would undoubtedly say “nothing”, 11 year old me would probably just point at the bag of discs hidden under that pile of shoes back in 1997 (like a creepy, wordless, movie ghost child).
Neither answer is particularly helpful. It's all too hard...
I'm giving myself a dance break. I just need to pick the CD, turn on the machine, load it, skip to the song I want, and hope it's not too scratched to play...
* = All to be filed under Things That Would Be Good For You If You Just Bothered.