Ode to the CD-R

This post is about what happens when I go home to Vista and tell my mom I can help get rid of stuff, and then end up finding old things in boxes, getting all nostalgic, and memorializing them in writing instead.

One of the last times I went home, I found a stash of burned CDs in my childhood closet. It’s probably safe to say there were hundreds of them, organized into cases by time period or theme or vacation. One case had a bunch of mixes my friend Jen had burned for me in middle school: a time capsule of Y2K-era pop songs and sound bytes from Space Ghost Coast to Coast and The Osbournes. A separate case had all the Beatles bootlegs I’d downloaded from Kazaa: demos and alternate takes and obscure interviews (undoubtedly I included some of these in the mixes I made for Jen, even though she always made sure to tell me how much she didn’t like the Beatles).

Several other cases were full of the mixes I made in high school. There was a CD for pretty much every band tournament or trip I went on between 2002 and 2006. Most of them were a hodgepodge of whatever “songs of the week” I was into at the time, which almost always fell into one of two categories: early 2000s pop punk or 1960s classic rock. Besides the name of the tournament or trip, none of the CDs have their contents written on them, but most followed a similar structure: some rock songs to get me hyped on the bus ride to a show, then a whole slew of emo-adjacent songs in the middle that I typically listened to on the night ride home (hello Postal Service), then a few more peppy songs to even it out. I stuck to this pattern because it made it easy to skip the emo stuff if I wasn’t in the mood.

There were also two full cases of ripped drum corps shows and wind ensemble recordings, in case you ever doubted my band nerdiness. Another random stack consisted of maybe a dozen mixes I made in college (“Night Drives,” “Guitar Hero 2,” “S&G”), but by then CDs were becoming a thing of the past and we’d all moved on to that iPod life.

I played a couple of the old CDs for funsies—yes, we still have a stereo that plays CDs—and almost immediately cringed at the jarring jumps between decades/genres (no joke: The Who > Sum 41 > solo Mick Jagger > Avril Lavigne, yikes). BUT, it also made me remember how much effort had to go into the creation of that one cringey mix. Pre-iTunes/Spotify/YouTube, in the year 2000 AD, you had to obtain the songs you wanted usually by asking a friend if you could borrow a CD or finding/downloading songs from a P2P platform (shoutout to Kazaa and Bearshare)…then, once you ripped your CDs and downloaded your files, you’d take the songs you were into at the moment and organize them in some software like Nero, probably around 10-15 of them at a time because that’s all an audio CD-R could hold…then you’d put in an empty disc from the stack on the desk and wait for the computer to acknowledge it (sometimes it didn’t) and finally write your audio files to that flimsy piece of plastic, which would inevitably fail the first time and spin hopelessly and silently in your CD player until you tried again on a new disc, at which point you could finally, actually listen to your mediocre pop-punk-classic-rock mix in satisfaction. (Not trying to make excuses for my questionable music choices, but I do admire the patience of my former self for repeating that process literally hundreds of times.)

For every 20 CDs I burned, there were probably at least 10 failed attempts that ended up tossed in a corner somewhere. I didn’t throw them out because I thought maybe I could use them for a funky art project or something, but they eventually ended up in the trash along with any other CDs that got too scratched or held too many embarrassing memories. As for the rest, they were shuffled around in duffle bags and backpacks and car stereos for a good decade or so, until coming to rest in their clear sleeves in the cases in my closet. None are memorable enough to recreate (or even listen to again), but I don’t think I could ever get rid of them. So…sorry Mom, they’re just going to keep taking up space in the closet until one day I have my own house I can move all my old stuff into.

Anyway, I guess that does it for my short tribute to compact discs on a blog that at one point was all about records. Nostalgia is a funny thing.

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