Wednesday 29 November 2023

Racking up the years

"I'm old, not obsolete," opined Arnold, in the barrel-scraping retread that was 2015's Terminator Genisys. Much like CDs, these days. Remember when they were the future, all over Tomorrow's World, with their irridescent digital promise to tempt us all into rebuying our record collections? Long time ago, isn't it?

When I was at university as an undergraduate, an impossible number of years ago, I was a frequent visitor to the Record Library. It was a little room on the ground floor level of the main campus library, and was home to rack upon rack of vinyl and a small, but growing, number of new-fangled and impossibly exciting CDs. I didn't have a record player in my student hovel, but I borrowed CDs from the library most weeks and taped them onto whatever spare TDKs I had at the time. It didn't matter that the cassette recorder I was doing the copying on was, frankly, pretty rubbish - taping a CD was still better than taping the alternative.

Nearly 25 years after I left, I returned to that same university to work. Since staff have full access to the campus library, I also returned to the Record Library, which had grown somewhat, but also changed - most of the vinyl was gone, and the number of CDs had multiplied 50-fold, perhaps even 100-fold. And although everything is online these days, streamable or downloadable or Spotifyable or YouTubable, I would occasionally borrow a handful of CDs for old times' sake. I took great delight in finding and reborrowing some CDs I had first borrowed in the early 90s - there was a circularity to that that I greatly enjoyed.

Covid and lockdown meant working from home, of course. I'm still only in the office two or sometimes three days a week now - a change has been wrought that will be hard to go back from. But let's not digress. A month or two ago I went back to the library to get a CD, now more than 30 years after my first visit there. And the Record Library was ... gone.

Not gone gone, as I had first thought. But moved, to the lowest basement level, and from regular shelving to these space-efficient rolling racks...

Rolling racks

There was no-one around, no-one near the racks. They felt decidedly untouched. CDs are the past, and that makes me very sad. Still, they had a longer useful life than DVDs - you can't seem to give those away these days. Damn you Netflix, Disney+ and all the rest. But I loved CDs. Still love them. And have got thousands of the damn things. And no, Mrs Amusements, I will not part with them - they are a collection, after all.

Of course the other feeling these rolling racks triggered was a Proustian rush of recalling the department store I worked in as a teenager. As I may have mentioned before, I had a Saturday job in the lighting department of a well-known but now defunct high street store that was big enough to have an enormous, windowless stock room on its top floor. Most of the stock was housed in giant rolling racks that made the ones in the photograph above look puny. They were easily big enough to hide in, let's put it that way, and so were a great place to while away the time on a slow Saturday afternoon. Of course most stores these days don't have stock rooms in the same way - just-in-time ordering and better point-of-sale racking mean the shop floor is essentially the stock room now. "Just going to look for it upstairs" has, like CDs, become a thing of the past. That makes me sad too, but then of course I'm an old white guy and, as Mabel says in the wonderful Only Murders In The Building, "Old white guys are only afraid of colon cancer and societal change."

At this point, I was going to embed Yesterday's Men by Madness, but I've unsurprisingly featured that before, so here's something different, in the shape of When You're Old And Lonely by The Magnetic Fields, which gets away with its simplicity and lack of musical progression by being both short and (bitter)sweet.

When you're old and lonely you will wish you'd married me
I could build a fire for you and bring you cakes and tea
When you're cold and hungry I'll be waiting by the phone
You can call me up and tell me how you're all alone, all alone
When you're old and lonely and the rush of life is past
Days go by too slowly and the years go by too fast
When your golden loneliness is heavier than stone
You can call me up and say "My God, I'm all alone, all alone."

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  1. The demise of the CD is pretty sad particularly for someone like me who trawls the charity shops for stuff to feature on my blog.
    While I sort of understand the popularity of streaming it is not for my. I need something physical and tangible.
    It is of course feasible that Spotify will crash one day and people will be left with no music whatsoever.
    A bigger part of me than is healthy lives in hope that this might happen someday

    1. I'm with you on every aspect of this, from wanting a physical product to hoping Spotify crashes spectacularly.

  2. NB I am still resisting any thoughts of parting with my CDs although space is, as always, an issue

  3. What a great, evocative post Martin. I got that whole feeling - of store rooms and racks of vinyl and CDs, the smell, even (that Proustian madeleine) - ah yes. I just comfort myself with the knowledge that I'm not alone!

    1. I should add that the department store stock room had very low lighting, and was also completely silent, so getting in between the racks that were at least twice as high as me was a dark and hushed experience. And completely lovely.

  4. The Man Of Cheese1 December 2023 at 23:12

    I remember when they said CDs were indestructible and the rumour spread you could cover them with jam and they'd still play!
    My loft is home to massive boxes full of them and I still choose to make CD playlists for the car over and above connecting to Bluetooth and streaming . Glad there's a few of us left...

    1. Early CDs were thicker and really were damage-proof. Tried to snap one with a pair of pliers once, as you do, and the pliers broke!

  5. Here is proof, if proof were needed (which it wasn't) that your previous post was nothing to worry about.

    The CD library in Huddersfield Central Library was a regular haunt of mine. About 5 years ago they got rid of it. Yes, I picked up a few decent ones when they sold them off (though I wish I'd got there sooner), but it still broke my heart to see them go.

    I sold off a lot of my CD collection when times were hard and they were still worth something. I've spent the last couple of years searching charity shops and buying them back at a fraction of the cost. (Apart from the ones that have inexplicably held their value. I rarely find those.)

    You're not alone. We're with you. And besides, they keep saying the CD revival is just around the corner...

    1. Cheers, Rol. We happy few, we band of CD brothers.

  6. Just enjoying a re-read of this post and reassured by the other comments. Not sure if you ever read this but I was then reminded of a post from some years back which may resonate with you too

    1. Great post. “Two clicks per side per album" - love it! And of course part of the "indestructability" of early CDs was down to the fact that they were simply thicker - over time, they got thinner (presumably to save money) and less resilient. A shame, that.