“Because they battle me they’re really taking a risk. You’re an 8-Track Tape and I’m a compact disc.”
-Young MC, from the track “I Come Off”, off the album Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989)
I was late to the compact disc game, and it wasn’t until 1991 that I got a CD player. For the record the first CDs I bought were Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, Buffett’s A1A, and Paul’s Boutique from the Beastie Boys (my tape player had just eaten my cassette copy). They were purchased at Newbury Comics, a New England Cathedral of Music, which I’m happy to see is still in business.
While I would continue to play my analog cassettes for years after 1991 because I had so many of them, I fell in love with this burgeoning digital format. Other than what I spent on food or booze, most of my disposable income of that time went into my music collection. This was money well spent.
While the journey of most CD collections end in abandonment after the rise of iTunes (and mine does as well), I had a couple of pit stops along the way that are worth mentioning. Between 1998-2001, my music collection was the victim of some unfortunate events. Let me explain.
I moved from Boston to LA in June of 1998 to pursue my dream of being a screenwriter. I knew it was going to be a challenge, and I thought the $4,000 I had saved would be enough for my relocation. But this got quickly gobbled up from the road trip there (which was amazing, and a tale for another time), first/last/deposit for my apartment, and then buying supplies to assist in my quest to become a screenwriter (printer paper, ink, stationary, envelopes, and postage stamps . . . yes, this was before it was acceptable to email agents and producers).
It took me about a month to find a job, and by that time my bank account was anemic. I was lucky to have been hired as a bartender at Pizzeria Uno’s West Hollywood, but we were far from being a hip spot and the tips were never consistent. While we had busy nights and even weeks, there were shifts I was lucky if three people sat at the bar. I was loving Los Angeles and I was making new friends, but I was going broke.
And then it happened. It was sometime at the end of summer I did not have enough money to pay for rent, a first for me. No matter how low on funds I’d been in the past, I’d never been in a situation where I couldn’t pay for my apartment.
I was about seventy-five dollars short, and I’m not sure how I came up with the idea but I sold off part of my CD collection to pay for it. I can’t remember the name of the used record store in Burbank (but it wasn’t far from my apartment) and they paid around $3 to 4 a CD. It was embarrassing to have to do this, and depressing to have to part with any of my beloved music. This was also long before iTunes and the ability to copy CDs (I’m pretty sure the technology existed in 1998, but it wasn’t readily available to someone who couldn’t afford to keep their compact discs).
The view from my Burbank apartment in the late 90s, and me drinking in said apartment probably celebrating being able to pay rent.
Fortunately that was my low-point in Los Angeles (I guess if selling CDs to make rent is the worst thing that happens to you in LA, you’re not doing so bad), and I soon rebounded. By 2000 I had bought either new or used copies of the CDs I had sold, and also added more along the way. Things were looking up for Young Ostrowski.
But then my music collection received a double whammy.
On my flight home to Boston for Christmas in 2000, I left one of those hard plastic CD holders on the plane with about twenty of my favorites in it. I didn’t realize this until the next day, and when I called the airline (I can’t even remember which one now) they said they would look for it. I gave my parents’ phone number (no cell phone back then), but during the whole week they never rang. When I called back, after being put on hold and transferred a million times, the airline informed me they were unable to locate my CDs.
Then about a couple months after returning to LA, I got robbed. All the CDs in my car were taken, and in their place the thief (or thieves) left six small cylindrical pieces of scorched glass. Apparently my car was used as a crack den, and my music was on its way to being sold for drugs.
In 2001 I was still living paycheck-to-paycheck, and this was a big blow. I made the decision I would not even attempt to try and replace what was stolen, but fortunately this was around the time my roommate Fozzie got an iMac. Not only did his computer look cool, he was able to make copies of CDs and also burn mixes. Foz let me use his new toy, and I borrowed from friends to make copies of the ones I lost and also to add more music to my collection.
This lead eventually to 2006 and my first iPod, and the slow and unceremonious death of my CD collection. My discs got imported and stored digitally, all available through those little white headphones wherever I went. For the next couple years I still listened to CDs on the stereo, but when I moved into my studio apartment in late 2007 I pretty much abandoned the format.
Fifteen years after the double whammy disaster to my music collection, I’m now happily giving away 72 compact discs as part of the Minimalism Game. I would have no problem parting with dozens more, but I don’t think Goodwill or the Salvation Army will accept them without the jewel cases. Several years back I liberated most discs in my collection from their cases, and along with the booklets put them in an easily storable zip-up album.
All of the CDs I’m giving away or recycling have been imported wholly or in part to my iTunes. I could put them in an album, but I can’t remember the last time I dusted off the one I currently have. And it also feels good to be physically getting rid of all this plastic, which fits into the reason why I began this Minimalism Game.
Just a quick note on a few of the CDs that are departing my home:
- Jimmy Buffett’s Fruitcakes – This was one of my most anticipated CDs of all time, as Buffett had not recorded a studio album in five years. Upon its release in May 1994 I was living in Key West, and I biked down to Duval Street early that morning to the Margaritaville Café store to purchase it. My buddy Paul was visiting at the time, and we listened to every track while enjoying cocktails in my apartment on Bertha Street. Unfortunately this disc is scratched to shit, but I do have another copy.
- CDs of Swing & Standards – Back in the mid to late 90s, I was listening to swing music and standards every day. While I loved the current stuff of my generation, there was just something about Frank, Sammy, Dino, Glen Miller, Mel Torme, Count Basie, Nat King Cole and the artists of that period that really spoke to me. This was the music of my grandparents, and I couldn’t get enough of it. While I still enjoy these tunes, hopefully my CDs will fall into the hands of a twenty-something who will turn off Kayne or Taylor Swift for a little while and find some appreciation in the classics.
- CDs of singer songwriters – Marc Cohn, Kevin Welch, and Lyle Lovett are three artists who are very under appreciated. Cohn scored a huge hit on his self-titled debut with “Walking in Memphis” in the early 90s, but then pretty much disappeared off the charts even though he continued to record quality music. The Rainy Season, his second album, (which is on my list) is quite good. I especially like “Rest for the Weary” and “She’s Becoming Gold”. Kevin Welch and Lyle Lovett are two alt country artists I’ve loved for decades, and I will never tire of listening to the former’s “Something ‘Bout You” and the latter’s “Song for Sonja”. As with my Swing Music, I’m sure if a younger person (with good taste) were to listen to these great singer songwriters they would appreciate their soulful voices and songs.
- Mix CDs – These make up more than half of the 72 I’m getting rid of, and there are ones dating back to the days of my old roommate’s iMac. Since they’re already safely stored on my computer and in the cloud, there is just no logical reason to keep them. And I was happy to learn that Target and Best Buy have recycling bins that will keep these pieces of plastic out of a landfill.
I’m behind a day with this post, so I’ll be back tomorrow or Monday with Days 26 & 27 of the Minimalism Game. That makes six more days to go, and 171 more things I need to oust from my apartment. Can I make it?