I was late to the compact disc game. Even though I was an early adopter of a lot of technology as a young kid (thanks mainly to my bio-dad, who loved new tech and worked in electronics sales), by high school (the early 1990s), I had fallen behind the curve. The only music players I had access to were a cassette boombox and the big stereo component system in the living room, which had a dual cassette player, but not a CD player.
Of course, this would be the time I started getting heavily into music, but it was also at a time when cassette tapes — both commercially produced and consumer grade — were still a big thing. CD recorders for the home computer were still a few years away, and most every car still came standard with a tape deck, so record stores had about equal amounts cassettes and CDs (vinyl hadn’t entered its renaissance yet, and back then was a very niche item outside of used/specialty retailers).
Hence, the bulk of my music exposure in high school came either from mix-tapes friends had made for me, or albums on cassette I’d purchased at record stores. This worked out pretty well, as I spent a lot of time in my car with its cassette deck, or locked up in my room with said boombox. The component system eventually moved into my bedroom, and when I moved out at 18, I took it with me. Eventually, though, it either a) died, or b) I left it somewhere, but either way, it didn’t last long into my adulthood.
The first device I owned that could play CDs was the native CD-ROM drive inside my first Mac, a Performa 6360 that I bought (and put myself into debt over) in early 1997. Yes, kids, I did not own a CD-playing device until almost the year 2000. At that point, I started acquiring discs, an effort jump-started somewhat by enrolling in one of those Columbia House mail-order deals (no, really). But I never got really into purchasing CDs (admittedly, neither did I with tapes, as all I ever have owned fit into a small (1-foot-tall?), three-drawer storage unit), so my would-be collection grew very slowly. I’ve always been more interested in making music than “collecting” it.
The CD tower you see pictured above, purchased in the early 2000s, is the only one I’ve ever owned, and it’s never been much fuller than what you see there. I own more than what’s shown — at any given time, a fifth of my discs are in my car (because, of course, I also don’t own a real iPod or have a way to connect such a thing to my stock car audio system) — and a lot of what I’ve acquired over the last few years has been comped discs given or sent to me by publicists and record company reps. Most new music I buy is digital, because even though I prefer to have a physical item to accompany the purchase, I am also a cheap mofo and $5 (or less!) MP3 albums from Amazon are awesome.
All that said, there’s a lot of history in that gleaming tower of music that, for the most part, collects dust in a spare bedroom save for the occasional seeking of soundtracks for road trips. So let this serve as an introduction to a series of blog posts I’m going to do over the next year or so looking at the stories behind each CD on the brushed-steel shelves. Some of these posts will be abysmally short; others will be painfully long. But what they definitely won’t be are “reviews.” I’m not analyzing the music on the discs. I’m more interested in seeing what stories unfold from noting where, when and how each CD was acquired.
I hope you tune in for the tour, and maybe we’ll both learn a little something about each other on the way. Or kill a few minutes here and there. Whatever.