Confessions of a Jewelbox Lover

A conversation I had with Adrian Matejka a couple of weeks ago has me going back through my stacks of CDs. He talked about how he was putting all his music into a digital format and boxing up his compact disks for his family's move to the midwest. I'm now converting all my disks to digital files, and somehow, I'm feeling nostalgic. A little sad.

You see, I love jewelboxes for CDs. I love the packaging. I love looking at the notes bands leave for their loved ones. I love reading the lyrics and finding out who's a new member of what band, etc. Somehow, the crafting of music . . . the actual activity of creating a series of songs for an album isn't captured when you see a single AIFF or MP3 file in your iTunes. The songs themselves become bits and bytes of digitized information.

I used to spend hours and ($$) in Tower Records, going through the aisles and browsing for compact disks. There was a Tower Records just north of my college campus. Weekends, I'd cruise through the clutter of jewelboxes as goth employees rubbed elbows with heavy metal long-haired employees alphabetizing recent releases. The occasional nerdy jazz afficionado would check the inventory. Alas, Tower Records is now no more, and now music can simply be downloaded to your computer with a quick click of a button. You don't have to get your purchases checked out by the crunchy girl with the nose ring. You won't be judged by other customers for your musical tastes. It's quicker, cheaper, and in some ways less communal.

However, that's not to say I'm not also persuaded by the convenience of iPods, MP3 players, and cleaning up all the clutter jewelboxes, CDs, and the bulky physical presence these things leave behind. Since 1999 I have moved four times. In those four times, I cursed the amount of crap I somehow accumulated. The worst of my accumulations, of course, are my books. My father helped me move from Arizona to Pennsylvania. He was carrying a heavy file box stuffed with books up the ramp of the rental truck. "Did you read all these books?" he asked. I said, "Of course." At least, in spirit I had read all the books . . . or at least wanted to. But I can honestly say that I had listened to all my CD's, the other bulky possession I needed to move across the country. After the second move from PA to NY, I started to downsize my jewelbox collection. I started putting my disks in binders, keeping the cover inserts for quick identification of tracks. Then, with the accumulation of more disks, I shifted to the file boxes with plastic sheaths. Now . . . I'm going all digitial, putting years collecting in boxes into the basement. I'm responsible for the demise of the jewelbox, I'm afraid. I'm responsible for the demise of Tower Records and the small town record store. Alas, I also love my iPod.

A few years ago I made my first iTunes purchase (that was when I had a high-speed internet connection). It was quick, neat, and easy . . . and cheaper. An iTunes purchase was $9.99 for a CD that would've cost me $15.00. I suppose that extra five bucks went into the production of the paper and the plastic in the jewelbox. And still, I made a back up hard copy of the CD I had downloaded, not trusting whether the thing would stay in my hard drive or go away forever.

I know this is a rambling/conflicted account of my guilt. I suppose when it comes down to it, I'll miss the weight of a CD jewelbox . . . its physical manifestation. A digital music file still feels ephemeral to me. But here I am. It's Saturday morning and I've just gone through the "R's." in my collection. Roxy Music is done. Next will be Saint Etienne. Then Hope Sandoval. I've been pretty quick about the transition from analog to digital. The little green checkmarks in iTunes shows my progress and I'm almost through the CD.

Oliver de la Paz