Living in the material world: what to do with all this stuff?
Here is today’s question, even though I actually wrote it yesterday: What do I do with all this stuff?
I began collecting music about the time I got my first job, selling typewriters door to door for Best Business Equipment, two blocks up Lenora from where ten years later I would go to work at The Rocket magazine, during the summer of 1976. I sidled onto the edges of the music industry and began getting LPs for free a couple years later, then fell face first into it at The Rocket.
At the peak of things, I received something like 100 CDs a week, 5,000 CDs a year. That went on for a while — a good while, a good long while — and though by rough estimate I kept only five percent of what came my way, that’s still a lot of stuff.
I have winnowed some and moved a lot, and can’t find the odd album (whatever happened to that Lane James LP still bugs me), but what’s in my office and its adjoining walk-in closet comes to about 2,500 LPs, 5,000 7-inch singles, a small uncounted trove of reel to reel tapes and 78s, and something like 10,000 CDs.
Once upon a time I believed that keeping these things was a kind of retirement security account, that my Mudhoney test pressings would pay for whatever essentials my poor but honest lifestyle didn’t manage. Then, of course, music became a non-physical product of no especial collector interest, and the economy went to hell. (One of those is bound to change. In theory.)
In the meantime, my relationship to music – and to the music industry – has changed substantially. Which is to say that at best I’m now a semi-professional critic, and consequently my reasons for hanging onto things have changed. I have to believe that’s a permanent change in status, that the ongoing demand for the ideas I have about what constitutes good music and bad music and the awful indifference in between…I have to believe those days are gone and lost forever. Because they probably are.
And space is finite. So is money, and I’m not going to buy or build another CD rack. That’s just silly.
But what to shed?
The first cut, which I made last summer, was pretty easy. I’d kept a certain amount of music from artists I didn’t really care for, but who were in one way or another important to the magazine I co-edited. So I dumped a bunch of stuff Peter liked that I didn’t think I’d ever listen to, minor acts whose potential to surprise and engage me seemed pretty limited.
But part of me remains a bit of a historian, and a part of me still imagines that some day the phone will ring (no, that’s not how it’ll be; the e-mail will chime…or whatever comes after) and I’ll be asked to write knowledgeably about something…only to discover I no longer have those CDs.
This is a problem.
Here’s an example: In the cabinet is a summary CD reflecting the career of a country band called Confederate Railroad. I have never listened to this CD. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Country Music entry by Brian Mansfield tells me they had hits in the Hank II/Marshall Tucker vein in the early 1990s, and that they sold upwards of three-million albums.
The problem is that I have to make room for the new Crooked Still album. And something has to give. If not Confederate Railroad, then maybe Crooked Fingers? But the amount of time it takes to make these decisions has left my office a shambles. (Or, at least, that’s my excuse for the mess.)
So here’s the short-term fix: I took all the CD-Rs that backed up the pages of No Depression, all of which are also backed up on a spare hard drive, put them in a box, and cleared off a small CD rack. And now I’m move CDs from three cabinets over a little bit to make room for the newest Crooked Still album, and to delay listening to that Confederate Railroad CD. And to put the Connells back in the shelves and out of the pitch pile, because even though I haven’t listened to them for at least a decade I can’t bear to part with those two CDs. Yet.
Then, of course, there’s the question of whether I’ll ever actually listen to all those Alan Jackson discs…