“…You are the music while the music lasts” – T.S. Eliot
The clatter and tentative smash that was a staple of my youth is a sound I never hear anymore, of the jewel cases that collided into each other – woefully scratched and broken – with all of their tongs falling out. In the swift rustle for more music, another familiar tune to assuage the throes of teenage angst, it was always a rush from one CD to another to again capture the feeling, the hole that pierced right through that could only be caught by the edge of a song.
The other day, thumbing through a CD collection I used to visit daily, I was taken in by a past that had slipped by without any ceremony. Instantly, I recognized the jewels cases that I had forgotten of bands I used to love – Tori Amos, Sonic Youth, This Mortal Coil – and the times that were linked to them. It was easy to instantly remember the days that I had bought them, from which stores, and whether or not I was in a different city, or country even. Back in those days, there was humility in having to choose a CD and pluck it purposefully from its case to listen. For the next 30 or 40 minutes, there would be a commitment of sorts, something that couldn’t be broken and would not be cast aside before the last notes had played out and faded down.
The passing of Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland brought me back recently to the music of my teenage years, and for the past few weeks the eternal strains of “Interstate Love Song” have played in my head as I thought of how many grunge era idols have died, of the music and what it meant. In the warring state of youth that arises out of self-development, music seems so much more important – the fount from which so much of solitude and spirit is discovered. In it, there exists the prospect of an entirely different world, one that stretches beyond the ever-glossy hallways of high school.
Between the dissolution of the teen idols and the accessibility of music in digital format, there’s an investment that no longer exists. In the days of jewel cases, it really didn’t matter if a CD was bad – you had paid the $15 or $20 so you had to listen to it at least four or five times before you could decide it was a waste. From The Birthday Party to Wilco, there were a lot of albums I never quite fell in love with, but some of those commitments made certain reckonings possible. If I had never bought Sonic Youth’s “A Thousand Leaves” album, and hadn’t stared at it time and time again as my fingers danced over which CD to choose, the soul-crush of a song like “Wildflower Soul” would never have revealed itself to me at all. It’s hard to believe how random and irreplaceable discovery can be.
Now, I feel guilt at the collection of CDs that hang out in the grey cabinet in the back of my living room, gathering a darkness that seems more insulting than dust. I still listen to albums, through iTunes and sometimes YouTube, but I miss the ever-careful switching of the discs, and not having it be so easy to skip over the least obvious parts. There was an almost holy experience that came along with choosing an album every time, the tangible clatter of excitement that meant a favourite song, an experience, a new bright world to envision.