When did CDs become tchotchkes?

IMG_5195This post first appeared on Medium.

My wife brought home a stack of CDs last night. In her line of work people send her freebies every once in a while as a thank you. But it made me wonder: after years of receiving key chains, candles, bottles of wine, and corkscrews, are CDs the new tchotchkes? Have they reached the level of impersonal gift after being so important to my life? Is my collection destined to end up in shoeboxes alongside the mix-tapes of my youth? Worse yet, should they be there already?

As I write this I’m alternating between listening to Spotify, Rdio, and my iTunes collection. I rarely handle physical music anymore. Occasionally I bring CDs to the car but that’s only because I’m too cheap to buy a hook up for my digital collection. They mainly collect dust, filling an Ikea bookshelf in our hallway.

It seems like ages ago now but music used to be such a larger part of my life physically. When I graduated to middle school I started taking the bus with the older kids, mostly high school students. It’s a long story regarding districting but what’s important is that the kids in my town took a bus to school three towns away. If you were picked up first you had around an hour ride. I was lucky and had about 40 minutes each way. Because of the distance, our bus driver Tina, or Teen as we called her, installed a tape deck next to her seat and put speakers up in the four corners of the bus.

The musical selection was greatly influenced by the older students who were influenced by their parents. Therefore we listened to a lot of Ozzy, Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Tull. I’m pretty sure no one sacrificed a goat during any of our rides but it was a big bus and I was a little kid. Each time a particular song came on that we liked, we would wait for it to be over and then one of the older kids would run up to the front, flip the tape, fast forward it a bit, and flip it back over so we could listen to it again. Some of the other kids would yell “Stop” or “Go now stop” since they were the best at fast forwarding tapes. It really took effort to hear music back then.

It was around this time that my dad won a CD player in a raffle. The excitement of winning was quickly extinguished when we made our weekly trip to town to buy some CDs. The price tag on a single wondrous, silver disc was too much to bear so my dad gave the thing away to my godfather. He was a single guy with money to burn so he quickly built up a collection of Yanni to match his mustache and crotch hugging jogging shorts lifestyle. He had a javelin that he threw at the local park but that’s another story.

Years later I grew my own collection. Kept the discs scratch free and loaded them on my iMac the day I brought it home from the Apple store. I made mixed albums on my desktop and burned more CDs. My collection started to become nameless since I rarely wrote a title on the CDs. I blame this on a lack of having a Sharpie for years. I brought them on trips, sent them to friends, and even used one at my wedding. This was such improvement from taping Top 40 songs off of the radio on my boombox or taping my parents’ records therefore perpetuating another generation of Peter, Paul and Mary fans.

So now physical CDs, once so important in my life, seem to be fading. I encounter them less and less and usually only buy them when they are a few bucks so I can save on iTunes. Lately though I haven’t bought any music, just listening to free stations like Spotify and Rdio after having given Jango (there’s no silent D) a run for a few years.

Music itself was never physical but its trappings were. You never saw the notes as they’re played however so much of our musical life was stacked on shelves. Now we can listen to anything we want whenever we want – even AC/DC succumbed to iTunes.

But it seems like we pay a higher price. Music is losing its hold on us. It’s becoming background noise to be turned on or off depending on our workday. I use it to tune out the office when I’m chasing a thought or share it quickly with my friends online only to move on to the next song a few moments later.

Still, I try to keep music in a better place. I listen to songs for inspiration or to catch a feeling when I write. They allow me to wrap myself in emotions but have I let them become tools rather than enjoyment?

I don’t know what the future of music holds. I just hope that it doesn’t become so immaterial that it slips through our ears unappreciated and unnoticed.

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