I came of age musically during the alternative rock era of the early-to-mid-1990s, which meant as a rural teenager that my favorite bands were (by default) Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. I modestly expanded my interest over the years with the help of my college-age brother Brad, including a brief obsession with Phish (for better or worse), but I mostly stayed in the alternative arena until file sharing sites like Napster arrived and I made the trip to my local state university (UIUC).
Once there I slowly expanded into indie and experimental rock while still maintaining a tie to my alternative roots. I’m not sure if it was good or bad, but the “resurgence of garage rock” happened around my sophomore year (~2002), so for several years I listened to bands like The Strokes, The Walkmen, The White Sripes, etc.
In my junior year my apartment was burglarized. I lost most of my expensive and highly movable possessions, but the worst loss was my CD collection. Most of my friends suffered the same fate at some point. For some reason, CDs were highly valuable (probably pawn shops paid $1 a piece or something like that), and almost everyone I know stupidly packed them in cheap black binders, which allowed burglars to easily swipe years of painstaking accumulation in a convenient carrying case. Not to mention the many thousands of dollars that each 200 CD binder represented (most will remember the laughable age when albums retailed for $16+ a pop).
What seems so funny to me today is that digitization, while it has arguably reduced the quality of music we listen to, has made accessible almost the entire pantheon of music to anyone willing to spend a paltry $5 a month. My 1994 self could never have imagined the vast panoply of music that nearly anyone can access with minimal funds and effort.
What I was left with after the robbery was a huge banana box full of empty jewel cases, relics that I initially kept in order to replace my lost collection. Much of my tastes had changed in my ten years as a music consumer however, and after the laughable concept of ten percent annual “depreciation” was applied to my collection I quickly realized that my renter’s insurance settlement would never come close to providing the funds necessary to restore my entire collection anyway.
Over the next 30 weeks or so, I’m going to try to go back and listen to some of those albums and try to think about how I came to own them, music and technology, and whether I would still scrobble, share, or otherwise play this album in the physical or virtual presence of others.
Coming up first: Pearl Jam Yield (1998).