A case for the stacks of CDs we can’t seem to let go

MORE ADVENTUROUS - Fiel Estrella - The Philippine Star
A case for the stacks of CDs we canât seem to let go
There’s a careful curation, a ritual and production to mix CDs, from formulating perfect playlists to creating the right handmade cover.

These are some of the things I found while looking through my old desk and some shelves in our neglected storage room: a Leonard Cohen poetry book; a barely-held-together spiral notebook that holds funny, out-of-context conversations I had with high school friends, written down verbatim; a triple-lens toy film camera I never figured out how to use; CDs by bands I loved as a teenager; and the blank adhesive labels hoarded from Daiso that I used to stick on the mix CDs I would make for friends (and people I wished had been more than friends).

When we moved four years ago, my vinyl records had been packed in a box that served as packaging for a desk fan. I had put them away in the storage room, convincing myself I’d get to finding a “real” space for them eventually, but I never got around to it. They remained in the box, quietly gathering dust, shoved aside next to all the other remnants of a life I’m no longer quite living.

The CDs, though, felt the most out of place. At least I still own a record player. But these little discs in their crystal cases were practically time travelers, literally outliving their purpose. Some were even signed, reminding me of the painstaking (and embarrassing) lengths I went in the name of fanatic conviction.

They’re definitely precious rarities, but only to the select few who still even belong to this little subculture or micro-era of music. I know they certainly meant a lot to me. But nobody told me then that a lot can change in a decade, and my first thought upon seeing them was that it might do me good to get rid of them, or pass them on.

The CD at the top of the stack is Fast Times at Barrington High, the final album released by The Academy Is…, my former favorite band. I started to think about whether anyone would buy it if I put up a Carousell listing — but then I shut down the idea completely when I recalled the life I’ve had with it.

The band broke up in 2011, but I managed to get it signed anyway: first by singer William when he played a solo show here, then by drummer Andy when he guested as an instrumentalist for Cobra Starship, and finally by bassist Adam who came to Manila as a member of Carly Rae Jepsen’s backing band. It wasn’t just the signatures that mattered, though. I remembered almost a little too late that it had actually been a gift from a dear friend who had died six years ago, when we were 18. It hadn’t been easy for her to find, either.

The rest of the CDs, I found, held similar sentimental notions for me, whether it was because I’d gotten one at the merch table at a concert I’ll never forget, or because the other had been a souvenir from a Christmastime trip to one of my favorite foreign cities.

I couldn’t even fathom getting rid of the sticky labels, even though I know I’ll never make a mix CD again. When I saw them, I suddenly missed the ritual and production that went into crafting a mix for someone: I started with a playlist, paying close attention to the lyrics but also curating based on artist (The Honorary Title and Rooney were frequent players). Then while I burned the CD on iTunes, I’d get to work on handmade CD sleeves, either printed or hand-drawn. The decorated adhesive labels were the final touch.

I made most of them for just one person. The most personal and vulnerable mix I ever made was titled Hey, Stranger, which was sort of a thing we called each other. On the cover I sketched a self-portrait on a pretend Polaroid surrounded by crudely drawn stars; on the back I wrote the tracklist in cursive and also drew a Polaroid Cool Cam to fit the theme. The playlist included Playing with My Heart by Kate Voegele (acoustic, so it hit closer to home) and I Thought I Saw Your Face Today by She & Him —  and a hidden track, The Test by The Academy Is…, my favorite lines from which were “Would it kill you to care as much as I did?” and “You’re a stranger I know well, and not at all.”

It was a confessional. I could not have been more obvious. I never heard back regarding what he thought of it, or if he even knew about the secret song. And despite repeated assurances that he owed me a mix CD or two, he never gave me anything back.

I might get a “Yeah, no sh*t” for this, but the way we consume and share music now is nothing like it was when we had CDs. I miss reading liner notes and thank you’s and all the other little details in the elaborate booklets. I miss pre-ordering an album and making things extra convoluted by refusing to listen to a single track until the physical copy arrived and I could play them over our sound system, a whole two months after they came out. I miss giving mix CDs away, handing them off to someone who’s actually present, instead of just sending a link online. I even miss the tiny whirring sounds the discs made when they spun.

There’s a careful curation to it all that I just can’t be bothered to do anymore, now that Spotify automatically has the correct artist and album names and the album covers. I’d listen to songs I grew up with now and be blown away at the cover art they actually came with.

I don’t mind the convenience, of course. But finding these objects again has reminded me that it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. I pre-ordered a physical copy of the latest BTS album because I wanted to collect the photos that come with it, but maybe I’ll buy an inexpensive CD player so I can actually listen to it, along with the other albums I already own. (I’ve already listened to all the tracks, though. I no longer have that kind of patience either.) There’s still room in my life for them, and I still make playlists all the time.

And if the person who still technically owes me a mix or two would send me a Spotify link 10 years later, I’d accept it and listen, no questions asked.



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