Saturday, March 7, 2015

Aside; ghosts in the stereo


I was nineteen when music surpassed the role of "hobby" or "passion" and formally became part of my identity. Discovering in my freshman year of university that many reacted to my love of music as "crazy" or "extreme", I found it easy to adopt the mantle of the friend-with-eclectic-tastes, that guy who'd select tunes appropriate for partying or hanging out. Looking back, my listening habits weren't so esoteric: Velvet Underground, Chemical Brothers, Thievery Corporation, etc. But I guess they differed enough from campus faves like Dave Matthews Band to earn me a rep.

That rep felt honest, given how I talked, shopped and worked almost exclusively around music, but it also fueled an ego-based collection. In short, I became a completist — not only for the bands I'd been following, but for new or classic artists that suddenly felt compulsory. I aligned their CD spines in towers as though part of a definitive library. There were three rock towers, two electronic ones and two for jazz (which included the odd new age or classical disc). I didn't need anyone else to appreciate them but I kept the space immaculate, you know, just in case anyone came by.

Although I love music just as passionately as I did in my early 20s, I view these mammoth towers a bit critically now that I'm in my 30s. For one thing, the big house I once assumed I would fill my collection with is no longer desired. I want to live simply, without a lot of material baggage. And although I have ample room in my current apartment, the greater burden associated with my collection has been mental baggage. A quick browse of titles triggers a history of past lives, bittersweet or indifferent.

For a time, I welcomed the idea of harnessing these aural memories into a piggy-bank for when I'm older and nostalgic. Well I am getting older, and no thanks. People in the decluttering industry (something that totally exists) will tell you: sort your photos while you're young or get rid of them. It's easy to hoard boxes of photos under the pretence they'll one day get sorted but the task becomes unmanageable. Photos are the most common thing descendants toss out after a death in the family. And records are my photos.

So in February I decided I wanted all of my music to be visible and organized on shelves. This meant condensing the seven towers of CDs I own with an additional 5 tupperwares' worth in storage. Virtually all of those in the latter group were placed in the discard pile. Will it feel strange getting rid of Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, my first favourite album ever? Sure, but it has more than fulfilled its obligation. If I ever crave listening to it — and I haven't in at least five years — it'll be a click away on Youtube. Want to know just how many records were hidden away in the basement? I didn't count, however I did find a box of fifty or so CDs I could've sworn I'd sold the year before. Out of sight, out of mind.

Funny thing is, I felt unsatisfied once I'd reached the goal of having every CD accounted for on my towers, as though I hadn't pushed myself hard enough. My gaze sharpened on beloved mid 2000s albums I no longer identified with and classics whose glory days were well behind me. Toughest of all were albums I'd bought in recent years which hadn't taken off, so to speak. Is it a bigger waste to sell them without getting their intended value, or keep them for the reminder of a failed experiment? Perhaps their worth has been in illustrating that my music-spending requires more research and less impulsiveness.

I've now conducted four sweeps of my towers and cut approximately 300 titles (roughly a fifth of my total collection). The reward of purging many admittedly great albums is assessing what remains: music that speaks to who I am, not who I was. Some artist catalogs have stayed relatively intact, while others have holes punched in them. But those absences just reinforce the joy of albums I've kept. I feel lighter and more appreciative. With all of this self-assessment, maybe the purge was no less ego-based than the accumulation. Still, it feels right to bid farewell to these ghosts. It's time to move forward, unencumbered.

This process has already moved on to other material categories and I might share those findings. It appears I have exclusive use of the hashtag #MaterialPurge2015 so I'll be annoying people on Twitter with that as well.

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