In recent news, Best Buy and Target both announced their stores will generally no longer sell CDs, pushing the future of the shiny, spherical format nearer to its inevitable day of reckoning.
But for people who drive cars made before 2010, CDs not only shorten the trip but also soundtrack our lives in retrospection. Can you remember what you listened to your car in high school? Or what your parents played for you in the backseat?
When I learned of MGMT’s most recent album, Little Dark Age, I had no choice but to listen to it. Because after listening to the group’s self-titled third album dozens of times while behind the wheel, MGMT’s journey, in a strange way, has become entangled with my own. I suppose that’s true for any connection with an artist or band, but having their CD in your car is like an express route to that sense of loyalty.
Wu-Tang Clan was the first rap music I enjoyed, specifically “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'.” Wu-Tang matched the intensity of the bands to which I was listening at the time such as Bad Religion and The Black Keys. So, naturally I picked up Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) at my local mall’s FYE store and, after copying it onto my laptop, put it my Subaru’s center console, where it remains today. I can recall many instances of driving around and listening to that CD, using it to wake myself up on road trips and even doing things as trivial as going the grocery store. The drums match the frequency of the potholes.
Strangely enough, the first time I encountered a city with an actual rap radio station was last summer when I drove to Philadelphia. From the western Pennsylvania rap drought, I had been forced to accrue my own selection of rap music for my car. Wu-Tang, Good Kid, m.a.a.d. City; The Money Store; Live From Space and 808s & Heartbreak offered a solid range of rap cuisine for a good cruise.
An album on CD, however, doesn’t need to have the quality of something like Enter the Wu-Tang to latch onto — it’s easy to become attached to something way more ordinary, obscure or out-there. The only time I listen to Leo Kottke or John Frusciante’s early work is when after I dig through my center console and pluck out a plastic jewel case. Perhaps it’s like the musical equivalent of The Mermaid Theory, in which CDs stand as your only option because your car doesn’t have an aux jack or cassette slot. But cross-country LTE streaming would rack up a stiff data bill, anyway.
So if I’m stuck in that situation, I can only assume that other people rely on CDs for music in the car for the many times the radio is not sufficiently entertaining. I figure you have albums you like that might not be so well-acclaimed but mean a whole lot you.
At least for a couple more years, people like us will still insert CDs into the radio, CDs that have become something more than physical. The legacy probably will not sell many new CDs, but it will hold off the meteorite of obsolescence from crashing down and sending the format into extinction. And even if that happens, the fossils will nonetheless be discovered in a burnt-out center console.