Friends mock me for keeping my CDs, but I can’t bear to part with these postcards from my past - The Guardian
Share on facebook

Friends mock me for keeping my CDs, but I can’t bear to part with these postcards from my past - The Guardian

Running an eye across my collection is like flicking through a shoebox full of love letters
It’s the audible smirk that gets you as the tour of your new digs reaches the spare room. “Still got your CDs, I see,” they quip, glancing knowingly at the other guests. “When are you going to just throw them out, Swales?” another always asks.
The arguments for the defence are myriad: many classic turn-of-the-century DJ mixes aren’t available digitally; loading up the car’s multi-disc CD player with themed selections (or an eyes-closed lucky dip) is fun; I feel a pang of guilt every time I discard the plastic wrapper from a chocolate bar and am not emotionally prepared for the burden of committing all those shiny discs and jewel tray cases to landfill. (Yes, technically they’re recyclable. But the only thing you can count on being recycled in Australia is headlines about recycling failures.)
If it was just about the music, these discs would have been ripped and moved along with all the other superfluous stuff that has fallen by the wayside over the years. But more than music, these dusty racks in the spare room are collections of memories.
Kyuss’s Welcome to Sky Valley – 10 songs across three “movements”, with handy liner note instructions that say “Listen Without Distraction” – has been my default favourite album of all time since the day I bought it, because nothing can ever sound as intoxicating as the band who captured your heart at 17. The album’s sludge-heavy production is starting to show some wear and tear, but the memories attached to 1 July 1994 are vivid: a triple-date to see Speed at a cinema in regional Queensland; chocolate sundaes and laughs at Macca’s; spinning Sky Valley front-to-back thrice with the singer in my band crashed out beside me; brokenhearted in tears at the school picnic tables a fortnight later, because sometimes you just have to let it all out in public.
Running an eye across my collection is like flicking through a shoebox filled with love letters and postcards from my past: the exhilarating highs, the soul-crushing lows, sprinklings of the drudgery in between. Kid Kenobi’s Clubbers Guide to Breaks is Friday night dancing in a share house hallway, 25 years old and impossibly lean, the Empire Hotel’s Moon Bar beckoning after another 50-hour week working on a big-budget flop. SOS’s Balance 013, a seamless three-disc DJ mix on which each track sounds like a new beginning, is a decadent week in Miami that capped a nine-year descent into drug-induced psychosis. Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is emerging from the darkness – blinking at the sunshine and rainbows, the cheeky glint returning to my eye – three years later.
Then there’s The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka, a gift from an ex that’s still in mint condition after 20 years, and a reminder that releasing a four-CD set in which every disc needs to be played simultaneously is a better idea in theory than it is in practice.
Throw forward to 2022 and my album of the year is Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul’s Topical Dancer, a subversive collection of lithe dancefloor workouts of varying shapes, sizes and tempos. Just don’t ask me for a track listing, or what memories are conjured when I think of it streaming through my Bluetooth earphones: there’s nothing nostalgic about the 20-minute commute to the office, nor making guacamole with avocados that aren’t quite ripe. Listening to music should be an immersive experience. Streaming music is something you mostly do while you’re doing something else.
What my friends with their gentle teasing and knowing glances haven’t noticed is the CD collection slowly being whittled away, from several thousand at its peak to the low hundreds now, as inessential entries are sold off or donated to charity. I’m like water and wind through a canyon, gently eroding the superficial layers until the collection finds its perfect form. What remains are the pivotal moments as timestamped by a crash-bang-wallop drum intro, a guitar riff that lumbers over the horizon like a steamroller through a desert, a filter sweep at the end of a 32-bar build and drop that has you closing your eyes, swirling your arms and believing everything will be OK in the end.
Before this collection (and the growing arsenal of records in the next room over, creating new memories such as discovering Nazia Hassan’s Disco Deewane at a Bengaluru antiques store) is inevitably handed down or tubbed up, it will remember the story of my life better than my battered brain ever could on its own. And before that time comes, maybe three people with CD players in their cars will meet me for our own parking lot experiment to give Zaireeka the memorable airing it deserves.