Am I the only one who misses actual, tangible, hold-’em-in-your-hands CDs?
Not just the CDs themselves, either, but the process of buying them.
From the age of 12, joining Mom on a trip to Fred Meyer was a treat because while she did her shopping, I got to peruse the electronics section for the perfect CD. There were half a dozen double-sided rows of all genres beautifully alphabetized for your choosing. You could find one of your favorite artists, flip agilely through their selection with expert fingers, slip on those headphones from which it’s a miracle you didn’t contract lice, and listen to 30-second tidbits of songs that tempted you to purchase the album. The process might take half an hour, but by the time you forked over your much-earned cash, you were certain you’d picked just the right one.
On the ride home, because your parents’ car didn’t have a CD player, you’d anxiously examine the song titles, wondering what the complete songs sound like (because, remember, you hadn’t yet heard them in their entirety, unless, by happenstance, you had happened to catch it on the radio or MTV). Also on the ride home, you’d begin the hellish task of attempting to remove the cellophane wrapping from the CD, a feat that only God and Chuck Norris can complete in under 15 minutes.
Once home, you’d finally cave in and use a fork or scissors to pry off the remaining cellophane (all while being careful not to scratch the case. If this happened, you faced the dishonor of seeing a plastic scar across the face of the beautifully airbrushed singer you so admired. “I’m sorry!” you screamed inwardly every freaking time the artist’s eyes glared at you, knowing you’d committed an irreversible betrayal.). Then, finally, gingerly, you plucked the CD from its case and hear the satisfying click that is the inaugural separation of the two, analogous to the cracking of a book spine. You insert the CD into your player, slide the paper cover out of the case, and begin reading the lyrics along with the song. If you were lucky, the artist had included backstories about their inspiration to the songs.
By the time you knew an album inside and out, you listened again to find nuances – “Oh, I’d never noticed the violins in that one” – “Huh, his voice sounds different in this one” – and anticipate, sometimes giddily, the beginning of the next song after you’d memorized the order.
One of my favorite parts of owning a CD was when you purchased one because you knew you enjoyed a few particular songs, but while listening to the album you discovered songs you loved even more that for whatever reason never made it to the radio. In a way it was almost cooler because fewer people knew about this amazing song, and you were one of those elite few. You could use the lesser-known songs to introduce this amazing artist to your friends.
I was in high school when people started burning CDs, and being a choir kid I was the recipient of several. To this day, every time I listen to a track on one of those CDs, it reminds me of the person who made it just for me. It was personal, and a form of lyrical communication. “This song and its meaning remind me of you,” essentially.
When was the last time you went out and bought a CD? No, Amazon doesn’t count.
For me, it was a few months ago. I was seeking David Crowder*Band’s Illuminate album, which I’d purchased about 10 years prior but had lost sometime in high school. I suspect it’s buried somewhere in my church’s youth group hangout room turned storage unit, but, alas, it is out in the abyss somewhere.
I began the hunt at Fred Meyer. The CD section had shrunken like an ugly raisin to about one-fifth of its former glory. They had two David Crowder CDs, neither the one I wanted. I repeated the process at Target and even resorted to trying Wal-Mart, despite my opinions of their business practices. Finally, I drove another 20 miles to the nearest Best Buy. When I still couldn’t find it, a sales associate directed me to one of their computers, on which you could search for specific items. David Crowder’s CDs did turn up – but most were only available online and had to be shipped to your home. Defeated, I purchased the one in-store album of the band they did carry, which was a “Best Of” CD containing most of the songs I wanted. I suppose at some point I’ll resort to finding a hard copy online and purchasing it, but probably not for a while, as the cost of shipping one to New Zealand would be higher than the CD itself. So for now I resort to YouTube, even though I’ve yet the find a playlist with every song from that album (the one linked to above has just six of the 16 songs).
I see the advantages to iTunes, particularly now that I’m abroad (carting all my CDs with me would have filled half of my suitcase). I enjoy discovering new artists on Pandora (well, I did in the States, rather, as it doesn’t work here). But I’ve only purchased a few songs on iTunes in my life, and each time I sort of felt like I was cheating on the album by picking and choosing a couple of songs I like, rather than physically going to the store and going through the lovely music-buying process that results in a tangible product in your hands. I don’t discover new songs by accident because my purchases are tailor-made to the specific songs I want. I don’t receive or make mixed CDs with friends.
I couldn’t if I wanted to. My laptop has no CD drive.