Songs in the key of life

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve gone past the point of being a music collector and should now consider myself an archivist.

I say this, having gotten to the point where I am now fulfilling my eMusic points by downloading albums that I’d never gotten around to buying in the past.  More specifically, I’m downloading a handful of pop albums from the 70s and 80s that I once listened to as a teen, as well as a  handful of recent pop albums.  Just the other day I downloaded the three Wham! albums, two Billy Idol albums, Robert Palmer’sRiptide(the one with “Addicted to Love”, for those playing along), and Mr. Mister’sWelcome to the Real World.  And just today, thanks to Amazon’s one-day 99-cent mp3 sale, I now own Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream.

But the willing forfeiture of my IndieCred™ card isn’t the point here.  My point is that my music collection has grown quite absurdly large, thanks to the ripping of purchased cds and downloads over the last eight or so years, building complete discographies (sometimes down to the single level).  I’ve always been a completist, ever since the days when I searched for all the Beatles band and solo albums and singles as a kid.  Sometimes I’ll just buy a few tracks of the band if I’m not a big fan, but more often than not I’ll eventually end up buying their entire catalog.

There’s something to be said about buying an album that I’ve always wanted to pick up, or finding a sweet deal on an album I’ve been curious about, but why am I grabbing all of these tracks?  Am I ever going to listen to any of them any time soon?  I actually did a quick tally to see how many tracks I have and how long it would take for me to listen to all of them at least once, and came up with just shy of one full year.  Suffice it to say, I have a ridiculous amount of music.  At present I probably have over 100,000 tracks.  A good many of them are doubles or even triples (or more) due to my creating the mp3 version of the band’s single release, or its presences on one of my many mixtapes recreated as a playlist.  There’s also the box sets, soundtracks, and compilations, and albums owned by my wife.  Still, that’s a lot to contend with.  I’m surprised I still have some space left on the drive it’s on.

But again, why do I have so many, and why am I still collecting? Well, why not?  It’s a hobby–not quite a full-blown obsession, at least not as bad as it once was–and it’s one that I truly enjoy.  There are always new bands coming out with new releases, and old bands that I’m finally discovering, and records I used to have on vinyl and never transferred to digital.  Part of the interest comes from the creativity of music and the emotions it can evoke.  I love it when a piece of music moves me emotionally, be it classical or alternative or rock, and I especially love it when a song blows me away.  Even more so when a whole album can do that.  Part of it also comes from the history of not just the band, but history itself.  The story of how a song was created as an emotional response to an event is fascinating–such as Neil Young’s heartbreak and anger over the Kent State shootings causing him to write “Ohio” as a form of both protest and release.  The history of the many genres of rock music are fascinating as well, as is the history of radio, at least to me, at any rate.  That’s why I’m currently writingWalk in Silence.

Then there’s just the fact that I love a good life soundtrack.  I love having music playing in the background, and it definitely comes with my upbringing.  My mom always had the radio on in the kitchen when she was cooking, and my dad always had the radio on downstairs in the basement when doing research.  My sisters also listened to the radio quite a bit when I was a kid.  Added to the fact that nearly all of us have a bit of musical ability to some degree, it’s hard to stay away from it.  Our family was always surrounded by it.  It only made sense that I’d eventually bring it to its logical conclusion by collecting the things I listened to.  It wasn’t enough for me to be a casual buyer of music, I had to go the whole hog.  I could never understand how others could just own a handful of tapes or records, most of them in sad shape.  They were missing out!

As I continue to download more songs and expand the collection even more, I realize that I’m at the point where I’m coming close to being an archivist.  My father collects information about our home town as a local historian.  I’m collecting music to create an ongoing library much in the same way now.  I’m no longer thinking of music collecting as a way to feed my urge to buy the latest thing or keep up with the hits; I’m actually at the point where I’m collecting them to make sense of my life, and life in general.

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