You Can't Buy MP3s at Yard Sales

Photo by David Jones / Flickr: DG Jones

Photo by David Jones / Flickr: DG Jones

As of yesterday, June 1, fourteen years have passed since blink-182’s breakthrough album Enema of the State was released, but I’ve owned my copy for fourteen years and four days. 

I can pinpoint the exact date I bought it because I remember the experience so vividly. On our way back to St. Louis following a Friday night gig in Columbia, MO, my friends and I stopped at a sidewalk sale hosted by a small radio station. Whether there by accident or poor judgement on the part of the station management, tucked into the sale bins among promo CDs for hundreds of unknown bands was a pristine copy of the then-still-unreleasedEnema, an album that would eventually generate more airplay and hit singles for blink than any other release. Incredulous and elated, I plunked down a five spot and consumed the whole disc three times over on the drive home. 

I still remember when and where I purchased blink’s other albums, too; the night I enthusiastically strode into a Best Buy to pick up my own copy of Dude Ranch after binging on a borrowed copy for 48 hours straight; June 12, 2001, when I walked two miles down the Las Vegas strip to the Virgin Records Megastore at Caesar’s Palace on the day Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was released, then walked another two miles back to my hotel room to listen to it. 

Such memories aren’t unique to blink albums. I recall the smell of the strip mall CD store in Osage Beach where I picked up Metallica’s ...And Justice for All not long after getting my first CD player. The Descendents’ compilationTwo Things at Once saved my sanity when I bought it while on a family trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. After seeing the film Velvet Goldmine one summer night, I walked out of the theater and immediately headed down the street to buy the soundtrack. It was in the same record store that I first heardBlondie’s “Maria,” the band’s debut single following their 1997 reformation, and I loved it so much that I took home the album that night. 

These moments have stuck because the music they involve meant something to me at the time, but also because they are distinct. The last time I bought a blink-182 album, I did so in my house, on my computer — the same way I’ve purchased most music over the last half-decade or so. That experience is the same every time. Fast, convenient, satisfying, but also bland and conventional. 

I love digital access to music. The ability to instantly discover a band and immediately dive into their full catalog at any time of the day or night is something I cherish. But of the tradeoffs for that access, the worst for me is not the quality of sound that many vinyl enthusiasts decry or the gamble of storing our music collections in the cloud. It’s the loss of context, the standardization of the process through which we commit a song or album to those collections. 

I worry that what I’m listening to right now won’t matter as much to me ten or twenty years in the future; that it will all run together in one generic memory of the iTunes home screen — an impression that neither burns out nor fades away, but remains forever static and sterile. 

This piece was originally crafted for and published at Medium