MP3 Does Not Impress Me.
Despite having close to thirty-five-thousand of them, I have no real affinity with MP3s. I consider them largely valueless.
My first single was bought on vinyl, my first albums were on cassette. I was slow to embrace the CD, which was prohibitively priced at the time, and the ten MiniDiscs I own were bought cheaply when that format became obsolete.
Cassettes were my medium of choice, I was buying them and making mixtapes while vinyl was dying out and as CDs were coming in. Tapes were a constant, and I am of the generation that taped songs off the radio, finger poised over the “pause” button to try and eliminate the DJ’s prattling. Thanks to the media hype, I have – or had – a home recording of the chart show, the week that Oasis released “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” contested it for the number one spot. I believed I was taping music history, although I had neutralised my vote by buying both singles.
I discovered Iron Maiden by chance, listening to the chart show and hearing them for the first time. I spent months waiting to hear them again, realising years later that the chart show was the only occasion on which they ever got any airplay. The track I heard was on a live album, which I could not afford (being a new release), but I found it on another album by them. By accident, then, my first Maiden album was their seminal work – I bought “Number Of The Beast” in Woolworths for £6.99, having heard the 1992 live version of Hallowed Be Thy Name.
I loved that album, I instantly loved Maiden: the artwork, the lyrics, the music. I spent all of my pocket money acquiring their other albums, poring over the sleevenotes and learning the names and instruments of the band members, the album chronology, and the lyrics. When I was not buying albums, I bought patches and sewed them to my denim jacket. I listened to Maiden constantly, and a book that I saw in a supermarket told me that they, along with other acts named within, were Heavy Metal. I had heard the term, with no idea of the bands involved, but now I knew. I quickly bought compilation albums which, despite the difference in styles, first introduced me to Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Venom. My taste started diverse, and broadened.
While I discovered huge numbers of classic rock and metal bands, finding my way to thrash, black metal, industrial, and every other conceivable sub-genre, my love for Maiden remained undiminished. I spent entire student loans tracking down all formats of their albums and singles, picture discs and shaped vinyls, expanding into every realm of merchandise that I encountered. I bought my first band shirt in 1998, with money from my seventeenth birthday, and I wore my new Best Of The Beast shirt to their gig – my first ever gig – at the Barrowlands a month later. I still have that shirt, its pristine black now a very light grey and the lettering faded to almost non-existence. It is more holes than shirt these days, threatening to disintegrate if you look at it for too long.
My tastes changed, and my obsession with them faded like the shirt. However, there were a few happy years spent in pursuit of that rare record that would complete my collection of picture discs; that CD single which was only released in Australia, or the one that was sold exclusively online; the North American editions of the first two albums, which both held tracks not available on the UK versions. I traipsed the second-hand record shops of Glasgow, and then I scoured ebay, enjoying the thrill of the chase and the leap my heart gave when I acquired a new piece. It is good to have passion in your life, even if it is a passion for a band that is not to everybody’s taste.
I remember the joy I had, tracking down these rare items. There were tapes that I literally wore out, I listened to them that much. My cassettes have been unplayable for a decade, yet I still have them all (in storage.) My Minidisc player still works, having lasted longer than the format did, and I use it regularly. I accumulated a couple of thousand CDs, which furnish my flat despite the fact I never play them – my stereo’s CD player broke a long time ago, and I just play the ripped files rather than put the physical CD into the laptop every time.
MP3s are convenient, they take up very little space in a room, and yet they are soulless. They have no tangible quality, no resale value, and limited nostalgia. I recall my first downloading experience because it was so new and so novel. It is hard to imagine that anyone will get the same thrill now the conventions and software have become so established.
Last week, I was trying to decide what to listen to. Thirty-five-thousand files is a lot of music, and a lot of choice, but it is a very long list to meander through and not all of it is categorised, or it has been categorised by someone who does not share my opinion of which genre classification should be used. It is far easier, I discovered, to walk over to my shelves, find the dance albums, browse the spines of the CDs, and decide that way. That seems to defeat the purpose somewhat.
When my Grandma died, she bequeathed me her record collection. I have all of the LPs that belonged to her and to my Grandpa, whom I never met. These records are entirely reminiscent of her, of her house, and of my years spent visiting her. They are stained with nicotine and age, infused with the smell of cigarette smoke that permeated the cardboard sleeves over several decades. Some of them have their (and thus my) surname written on in biro, all of them are tangible relics – when I remove a record I am carefully holding it by the same edges that my grandparents grasped, deftly locating it on the spindle, and noticing the same hiss and clicks and crackles that they heard.
When I touch these items, I am touching my past. I am connecting physically with people who are no longer here.
You will never convince me that digital media can ever compare.