Why I’m buying CDs


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I had a dream last week that I found a portable CD player for sale at a gas station and suddenly desperately wanted it. When I woke up, what had been a dream was now a task. I searched the internet for a CD player and started making a list of my favorite albums.  I had accepted the mission of collecting — and thus establishing my lifelong ownership of — physical copies of the songs that have touched me most in this life.  

I scrolled through my Spotify library’s “Albums” section and wrote down all the ones that I knew I loved. Then, one by one, I typed each one into the Google search bar and made a wish list. I will not be buying these CDs all at once, but this search was my way of gauging the availability of each one. I learned the value of these little shiny circles not only to myself, but also to the world. Why is The Killers’ album “Sam’s Town” $30, and why am I totally willing to pay it? Because that is one of my favorite albums and apparently a few other people feel similarly. Several of these albums I had not considered the value of before. TV Girl’s “French Exit” is selling for hundreds of dollars online as a vinyl record and is nearly impossible to find as a CD. The same goes for the earlier albums of Twenty One Pilots. The collector in me grows excited at the challenge.  

Downtown Appleton is home to a new record shop. Photo by Walden Hoddie.

As I researched, my criteria for what albums I would seek to own as a CD grew more specific. My first qualification is that I have to know and enjoy the majority of the tracks on the album. That was easy enough to sort through. But the second qualification that occurred to me is that I want to use this process of discovery to buy CDs that I can adore in CD form from the very beginning. This involves learning the intricacies of an album by listening to the silver circle, and therefore not knowing the music before I buy it. So, I tried to think of one of my favorite standalone songs, the album of which I am unfamiliar with: I came up with “Trouble” by Connie Converse. She is an artist I had been wanting to explore further. I looked up the album which “Trouble” is on — “How Sad, How Lovely” — and searched that bad boy up on Google; it’s sold out on Amazon and available for the high end of hundreds of dollars on eBay. Its Amazon page is sad. It is full of so much information about the album, down to reviews and the story of Connie Converse’s life, but missing a price and an “Add to Cart” button. Just like Connie herself, who drove away and mysteriously disappeared forever at the end of her recorded life, the album is missing. It is documented, but completely inaccessible. One day I would love to keep and tend to my own CD of “How Sad, How Lovely.” 

My exploration has clarified the origins of my initial dream. As I am entering my 20s and growing into this uncertain world, I have developed the desire to grab control of whatever I can while it’s still within my grasp. Streaming services are always mixing around their catalogues, artists boycott Spotify and even things that we pay for online occasionally cease to exist. For the things most valuable to me — the music I hold closest to my heart — I want them to survive as long as such a physical thing can. And even long after it is worn or scratched or otherwise unplayable, I want to know that I loved that thing and it brought me joy for as long as it physically could.