Somewhere in your house I’ll bet you’ve a stack of albums leaning against a record player or a shelf of CDs. Even though you’ve embraced the new era of iTunes and iPods I know you’ve still got these.
I have. Right now the kitchen table is covered with hundreds of CDs I’ve just carried down from the cupboard in the spare room. One of them – maybe Black Grape, Serge Gainsbourg, Sonny Boy Williamson, Kid Creole (I’ve listen to them all whilst writing this) is spinning in what now looks like an ancient CD player. I put it in on a precarious drawer that ejected itself and then disappeared back inside, it seems so old fashioned compared to just selecting songs on the computer.
The table though is a scene to behold, an inner city skyline of sharp edged plastic towers with brightly coloured sleeves inside. I was never as big a fan of CD’s as vinyl – the plastic cases frequently cracked and broke and when I was very drunk and listening to Led Zepellin with my windows open I’d sometimes get carried away and Frisbee dics out down the hill into Greenwich below.
But now, years after I’ve last listened to them, every case has a story, a moment in musical history and my own lifetime. As I’m pulling CD after CD out from the piles I can’t believe how happy it makes me to just see them all. It’s like a really good old friend showing up out of the blue.
There are hundreds of CDs here, thousands of songs. My girlfriend turns to me as we start playing them and says “Why the hell have you had so much great music locked away in that cupboard for so long?”
I don’t know. And then I realise it happened at some point when I was married and the size of the collection and the raucous joy it gave me was probably a problem for the person I was married to.
But that was then, old relationships don’t reappear in plastic clear cases but great music does. For the last two Saturday afternoons I’ve been sorting them all out, having my own kitchen disco and seriously wondering whether, if I formed a band again anyone would notice I’m wider around the waist than I was almost 30 years ago. Surely if we all wore sunglasses I could pretend I was a teenage Igyy Pop fan again.
As a teenager music was my lifeline to a better place, the songs reflected my feelings, fired my ambitions and let me block out feelings and experiences I didn’t want any part of. This passion for music and those that made it gave me a direction in life, a part time job in a record shop, something to save my money for, hours spent walking home from the centre of Leeds to Headingley where I grew up, soaking wet from dancing down the front of concerts by the Jam, Stiff Little Fingers, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Cramps, my ears ringing with what would later become tinnitus.It was the most important thing in my life, so it’s really strange that later I would block it out.
My hobby turned into a job when I was hired as a writer on the NME but somewhere after that in my mid 30s I switched off. Maybe I didn’t want to be reminded of great days gone by, maybe I took too much notice of the person I lived with.
What is clear to me now is you should never let anyone mess with your record collection, whatever format it’s on. It doesn’t matter what you do in your life but for so many people music soundtracks the most important moments. This newly rediscovered CD hord is like a sonic photo album, in fact it’s better. When I discover The Small Faces ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ I think of my mum, who died twenty years ago, Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ reminds me of being a kid listening to me dad singing it round the house, The Clash’s ‘White Riot’ reminds me of my when my son was a tiny baby shouting ‘nee naw nee naw’ to the police sirens on the track.
The big challenge is what the hell to do with them all now. I selected 50 I don’t want and they’ll go to the charity shop. Then I have to sort out all the ones I no longer need because I have them on my iPod, then I’ll upload the tracks I want. Finally I’ll take the best overall albums and leave them scattered near any available CD player I can play in my house. I don’t hold any real nostalgia for the format, just the songs within. But this won’t stop me marching round the house and pretending I’m on a nightclub dancefloor very late at night where it’s very very dark. We’ll just have to hope to hell the cleaner doesn’t walk in halfway through The Ramones.