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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2004/03/29
by Jesse Jarnow

Friends Will Arrive, Friends Will Disappear

In the same week, I got two things: a new iPod (Jah bless you, Russ and
Beth) and the new album by Iron and Wine. Within seconds – as soon as I
started ripping the latter to mp3 so I could listen on the former – I could
feel the disconnect occurring between the music and my CD collection — as
if the discs were just rinds to be sucked empty of their juices. But,
somehow, the process had actually made the music more alive. Instead of
being relegated to a shelf on my wall, the music is now with me, all the
time. And when I’m done listening to, say, the Iron and Wine album, I’m
dumped back into the "I" section of my collection, between "Inoue, Tetsu"
and "Josie and the Pussycats" (no, really), as if I was being made to return
the disc to the shelf.
But it is a strange, vampiric life, stripped of a certain kind of character
and reduced to a file name (albeit a sleekly displayed one). The Iron and
Wine disc is beautiful, and it’s got a package to match the content. Not
only is the cover art gorgeous, but the booklet is printed on really nice
paper that, quite frankly, smells really good, and feels even nicer
to the touch — a rich, deep, non-glossy texture that one can run his
fingers across. And given that the CD was only played once before being
ripped, my copy of Our Endless Numbered Days has veritably become a
fetish object, one that feels foreign and exotic and kinda nice. It’s hard
to know what to do. Technologically, listening to CDs just seems silly now
(especially since my discman is broken and I’ve been running my laptop and
iTunes through my stereo anyway), so there’s no real use in being
sentimental about it.
Certainly not all of my CDs feel as nice as the Iron and Wine album. I just
finished ripping my copy of The Beatles’ Help!, which is quite beat
up. I inherited it from a friend in one of those periodic purging of
possessions that one witnesses if he attends a liberal arts college for any
length of time. I can’t remember where she was going (Hawaii or Berkeley,
maybe?), but there was little room for CDs (too bad she didn’t have an iPod)
and I got Help!. It’s clearly an older edition, put out not too long
after The Beatles’ catalogue was issued on compact disc, and – besides the
slight cracks in the front and back – the case has a few varieties of crust
on it. The stuff on the front looks like chocolate, or maybe dough of some
variety (acquired in the Co-Op kitchen, no doubt), and the back has the
sticky remainder of what appears to be a rather large price label. There’s
also a round yellow sticker at the top right of the front cover (which she
explained to me at one point, but I’ve since forgotten). In short: it’s an
ugly, grungy CD, but one that’s traveled with me for many moons (at least
four or five years, at this point). And, lo, here’s my copy of Sgt.
Pepper, purchased (if I remember right) on a late-night jaunt to
The point is that most of the albums lining my shelves – at least the ones
that I’ve put in some serious time with – have stories. They’re stories that
I’m remembering as I grab bundles of discs off the shelf, and – with each
one – comes little twinges of regret. The first twinge is that, of course,
I’m going to miss these objects. It’s not like I’m getting rid of them. I’m
too much of a pack rat to get rid of my copy of Sgt. Pepper even if I
never listen to the disc again (besides, it’s good to be able to have one
for reference in case a "Paul Is Dead" debate spontaneously breaks out). The
second, and deeper, twinge, though, is in the emergence of these stories at
all. I haven’t seen my friend who moved to Hawaii in some time. I can’t even
remember how long. She came to New York for Phish’s New Year’s show in 2002,
though we somehow missed each other. She’s on my Friendster list, though, so
perhaps there’s hope. My friend who I went to Super-K with is a different
story, though we still email from time to time, that hits a weird nerve in
my memory if I stop to think about it for too long.
I hadn’t thought about either of these friends in a while, though I’m at the
point in my life where I’m realizing that people are falling out of my life
with a fair regularity. Goddamn it’s cheesy, but those lines from "Tangled
Up In Blue" really do continue to hit home: "All those people we used to
know / They’re an illusion to me now / Some are mathematicians / Some are
carpenter’s wives / Don’t know how it all got started / Don’t know what
they’re doing with their lives." Yeah, something like that. So it goes. But,
the truth is, nothing lasts forever. It’s not like CDs have ever served a
"traditional" use as memory-bearers, like old family heirlooms or some shit.
They’re just little pieces of technology. Anything that’s going missing in
my memory right now would be going missing in some form or another
regardless of whether or not I was ripping my CD collection to a new format.
And new memories will take their place: I’ll remember how I got my iPod,
I’ll remember that iTunes asked me if Magical Mystery Tour was
actually Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut (apparently they each have 11
tracks of exactly the same length), I’ll remember that I downloaded a ’71
Elvis soundboard in preparation for a trip to Las Vegas with a buddy. I’ll
remember music, and I’ll listen to music.

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