I am sitting cross-legged on the living room rug with teetering towers of CDs all around me. I imagine the scene looks like a miniature version of the Surfers Paradise skyline with King Kong plonked in the middle. The time has come, you see, to reclaim the space currently occupied in the drawers of our typically enormous entertainment unit by hundreds of CDs.
Surrounded by teetering towers of CDs, the scene looks like a skyline with King Kong in the middle. Illustration by Simon Letch.
Mostly in bulky jewel cases, they date back to the inception of the format in 1982. I like to think I'm not sentimental. I had zero reluctance when it came to dumping cassettes, with their inevitable cascades of tape leakage that could only be painstakingly wound back with a pencil, and their complete inability to maintain pitch stability in hot cars. Out they went, and with them the distantly romantic notion of the "mixtape", now easily superseded by the digital playlist.
Same with vinyl, in spite of what is optimistically termed the revival. Too big, too easily damaged. Sure, they sound far better than CDs but only if you treat them like control rods in a nuclear power station, polish them before and after you play them, and return them to their sleeves with meticulous care. I gave some away. The ones so scratched that they offered the tell-tale clicks, pops and explosions of white noise that sound just like someone frying an egg over the music, went to the dump.
And now, the jig is all but up for CDs. Digital streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music dish up almost any song or album title you can think of. Or simply speak into the magic ears of Siri, Google or Alexa, and your request will play instantly.
When entire music libraries can be carried on phones, what is the point of a vast CD collection? Besides, like most urban dwellers we need the drawer space for the more recent accoutrements of the digital age: power cables and adaptors of every sort, chargers for phones and tablets, and, thanks to the tech giants' collective obsession with making things ever thinner, external CD drives, external hard drives and, quite soon, surely, external brains.
Time for King Kong to dismantle the waterfront. But it's really not so easy. There's too much history in these drawers. For every 10 discs consigned to the garbage pile there's at least one that tugs at the heart.
My fingers brush George Michael's 1996 smash Older and I'm at a score of dinner parties in the 1990s. The slinky evening-wear jazz sound of Michael's heartbreaking tribute to his lover, Anselmo Feleppa, somehow defined the era. I think of my guests, some no longer with us, the daft conversations, the ribald laughter. Then I'm at an open-air George Michael concert in 2010 with my older sister and 45,000 other besotted fans. Elizabeth and I hadn't been to a concert together, well, since forever. But there we were right down the front, screaming out our appreciation and dancing in the aisle like two teenagers. We wept down the phone together when Michael died so unexpectedly in 2016.
Likewise, David Bowie. I cradle, for a moment, an artfully put together remaster of his 1974 William Burroughs-inspired sci-fi masterpiece Diamond Dogs and place it carefully in the keeper pile.
I'm not a great fan of Michael Bublé but I had his utterly gorgeous version of Willie Nelson's Always On My Mind, from his 2007 album Call Me Irresponsible, played at my mother's funeral. Slowed down compared to hit versions by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, the song perfectly echoes the heart of a recalcitrant son, who could have done so much more, could have been there more often than he was. "Little things I should have said and done, I just never took the time," Bublé croons. "But you were always on my mind."
Right next to Bublé I find former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett's 1983 album Bay of Kings. The album's reissue contains a stunning solo guitar interpretation of The Skye Boat Song. A proud Scot, who never lost her accent even after 45 years in Australia, Mum loved this song. The track was played at the funeral as images of Mum as a child and as a beautiful young woman before "we" happened to her were shown on the chapel's video screen.
So, clean up, wise up and chuck the dross from your life. But don't kill your darlings. Life is too short to throw the truly beautiful things away.
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