The Things They Listened To

DSCF6934For opening night of my first paid musical theater gig, my sound designer gave me a pile of CD’s. Some of them I had heard him play over the system during tech rehearsals, some I had never heard of. Every one of them was amazing and none of them would I have ever found on my own. Cassandra Wilson, Duncan Sheik, John Zorn, Holly Cole. Coltrane, Fiona Apple, Elvis Costello, Jonathon Richman. Loudon Wainwright, Tom Waits.

I was in Arizona at the time, home of the greatest used music store on the planet. For the run of the show, and for the rest of the time that I lived there, I would go to Zia’s every Monday (my dark day) and spend a couple of hours digging around the bins. My classic rock and heavy metal roots branched out to classical, punk, minimalist, new age, cowpunk, classic country, and the downright strange.

Which is half the story of how I later found myself, at age 28, to own over four hundred CD’s and no bed. The other half of the story I’m not telling.

CC and I had a moment recently where we realized  our kids don’t have the experience of finding music that way. When CD’s first came out there used to be one store in the city that sold them, and he’d go in every day off and buy whatever came out that week. They were so new, so expensive, and there was so little available. It’s how he ended up with Israeli dance music in his collection.

Our kids don’t buy CD’s. There’s no store to go to anymore to find gems– you know, the things you missed when they were new and you were listening to something else. Our kids Spotify and listen to what their friends listen to. Fine for finding new popular music. But where do they go for unpopular music?

I haven’t Spotified yet. I play Pandora on the TV when I’m allowed control of the remote. But I love iTunes DJ on my laptop. It has an irony filter. Let’s face it, I’ve got a lot of music that I’m not going to actively seek out to listen to all the time. Before we left for Indiana on our Thanksgiving road trip, this was the playlist it selected for me:


It inspired me to set up the whole there & back’s worth of discs for our trip.

We started off at 5am with Jethro Tull’s Songs From The Wood. Went on to Chet Atkins, Gin Blossoms, My Chemical Romance, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Act I of Carmen. Right about there is when the kids could hold it in no longer. (It’s also when they were fully awake and out of donuts that hadn’t been squished).


Me: Carmen! Isn’t it awesome?


Me: Maybe you’ll like the other two discs better.

Them: OH GOD!

Me: Wait wait wait, the hook is coming up, hang on.

At which point they all started doing bad kid opera impressions and attempted to get the puggles involved.

I was unfazed. We finished the disc.

Next up was Prince (they knew Let’s Go Crazy and didn’t even notice Darling Nikki), Jonathon Richman (which #1 tried to skip over), Kiss (only #4 liked it), Public Enemy (“Oh My God, what IS this horrible music?”).

When I drove up from Indy to Chicago by myself to retrieve CC for Thanksgiving, I listened to Carmen in its entirety. I cranked it. I sang along, only slightly more in tune than the kids had been. It finished just as I hit full-on holiday rush hour on the loop and segued into Nevermind The Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Perfect timing.

On the way home from Indy to New Jersey, I made excellent time before the sun rose and they slept through Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9,  Elvis The Number One Hits, and Kate Bush’s Aerial– quite possibly the only album that might make you get fired up about doing housework. When they finally woke up, the complaining about my taste in music began again. Styx drew another “what IS this horrible music” from #4.

Shortly after we got home she came up to me excitedly, wanting to play a song for me that she just bought because she’d heard it on Guitar Hero. It was Renegade.

Me: Oh, I love that song! I have that album.

#4: You mean I just paid money to download a song that we already own?

Me: Yep. I played you the album when we went to Indiana and you were all, ‘what IS this horrible music?’, remember?

#4: I hate my life.

I’ve been working on getting all of the CD’s loaded onto the home computer so that we can have the shelf space back for books. I’m not even a quarter of the way done with it and I’m still having second thoughts about it. I haven’t actually gotten rid of anything yet, but stacked them in bins in the garage.

And I’ve discovered where my kids go to find their gems. Because in my house, nothing stays where you put it.

I got in the car that #1 uses last week and Heart’s Dreamboat Annie was blasting at a respectable volume for ten-year-old stock Mitsubishi speakers. Doing laundry, I heard the unmistakable sounds of Live’s Songs From Black Mountain coming through the walls of the music room. #2 has chosen their The Distance to Here as her driving soundtrack. I found a pile of discs that had migrated from the garage: Randy and the Bloody Lovelies, the Fratellis, Queensryche, Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, Guns N Roses. Not that long ago I heard Rush cranking in the bathroom.

Apparently, I’ve become the used record store for the next generation.

21 thoughts on “The Things They Listened To

  1. GREAT post! Lots of memories in there. Since I don’t have kids I never really thought about the fact that they”re missing out on the music store experience. You described my early teens perfectly. Every penny I made went to buying albums (Ahem. I’m pre-CD era) or concert tickets. (Back when a REALLY expensive concert might run about $30) I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a record store and bought an album (by a totally unknown artist) because I liked a song that was playing on the turntable at the time. (Yes, I ended up with some real duds) You’re doing well to let your kids expand their musical horizons via your CD collection!

    1. Hey, I’m originally from the vinyl era! I did that too. I loved 45’s though because they were so cheap, and you got the bonus B-side. I used to save my lunch money for concert tickets and they were usually $9.50, the same price as the t-shirts!

  2. We can’t let go of our CDs either. Too many memories! Binders with sleeves made for CDs store them in much less space than the jewel cases. I have some nice fake leather binders for mine- they look good on the bookshelves. Admittedly not the cheapest way to deal with it, but I got to keep the CDs AND got more room on the bookshelves!

    1. I think I may go that route. We have several of those from when we were on the road. I had been reluctant to get rid of the jewel cases because they were something I missed on the road- I have no idea why now!

  3. Nice! I am STILL getting used to downloading songs from iTunes – up until about a year ago, I was still buying CDs. I still do sometimes, because I only have a CD player / radio in my car.

    A lot of these artists jumped out at me, but I have to say my favorite up there (and I don’t know what this says about me) = Gin Blossoms. I just lovelovelove them. Good memories, too. That always helps.

    Excellent post. “I hate my life.” HA.

    1. If you like the Gin Blossoms, please do check out Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers, from out of the ashes of Gin Blossoms and The Refreshments, all born & raised in Arizona. My favorite albums by them are Americano, Sonoran Hope & Madness, and Honky Tonk Union. I only have a CD player in the car too, no aux input. Though Miss Lucy is sporting a cassette deck, which is an upgrade from her original stock 8-track.

  4. Isn’t it WEIRD that CD’s are vanishing? I mean, everything about music formatting is transitory, but CD’s??

    I’m already giving myself pep talks that when I expose my daughter to brilliant music she might not embrace it. Maybe. Maybe.

    1. I am reminded often of the tv show Family Ties. No matter how hip, cool, and accommodating you (think you) are, your children will be opposed to you in one way or another.

  5. Oh man. I hear you about the kids. My oldest (7) was humming some old school song the other day (can’t remember which one, but not one he would hear on the radio), and I asked where he heard it. On a commercial, of course. 😉 We usually have music playing in the house, and we try to keep it eclectic. But yours is SERIOUSLY eclectic. Which I love. This makes me realize that I need to boot up my music, put it on shuffle, and subject my tots to mom’s warped sense of musicality. It’s for their own good!

    Great post, JM!!

  6. The one truly great thing all those stupid drives to/from Flagstaff awarded us was plenty of time (and from very young ages) to expose the kids to all manner of music. The day we discovered System of a Down calms Oldest Son down to this quiet, relaxed place is one I’ll never forget. Plus, factor in the mix cd of all of “their” songs…we just found a song the other day called Milk that we’ll have to add tothe mix.

      1. Oh, yes, and it was a lovely mix from a 4th grader! We’re currently in talks for her response mix. As for the Milkman, Chicken of the Opera is the current favorite…though McDonald xmas carols are still loved by all.

  7. I think it’s wonderful that your kids hate your music. That is one of easiest ways for them to redefine themselves as different. I only say this because my nephews tend to listen to exactly to the same classic rock music as their parents (they’re 21 and 16). I’ve given them iTunes gift cards that have said thing like, “But at least one song your parents hate.”


  8. I LOVE this post!!! I’m a totally eclectic listener, too, and still owe about 300 LPs which I can’t bear to part from … but I have yet to download my CDs onto my i-pod so I have a decent library — I’m going to do that this year no matter what!! LOVE that you’re bringing a whole variety of tunes into your kids’ life — and btw, I listened to Carmen while I was doing my chores every Saturday when I was growing up and it’s one of my all-time favorite pieces of music! Synchronicity!!!!

  9. I think you should send this blog to Zia. They would love it. You know vinyl is coming back? Glad to know some things come full circle and our Vinyl (Record) Room will always be relevant.

    1. Vinyl has always been popular amongst my people (and your husband’s). When I was in school I was also in the last class that did multitrack analogue recording. That two-inch tape was $225 for a reel, 15 minutes at 30ips. Blew the crap, sonically, out of the new Tascam DA-88 we had just gotten in. Sorry. I just geeked out there for a minute.

  10. ‘…I’ve become the used record store for the next generation.’ Hmmm this post has made me wonder if i’ll regret, in a couple of years, having given mine to charity.

    I don’t miss my cd’s now and I like the space 250 odd less cd’s gives me. Plus I find more music now being digital (like a current fav Julia Holter Live from NYC Le Poisson Rouge available on NPR Live Concerts Podcast – and Chance the Rapper ‘Acid Rap’ free to download).

    Living in the moment it has worked out well getting rid of my cd’s (cases and all) and I reckon the few Must Keep cd that I still have are enough for me. Plus if my house burns to the ground i have a back up off site of all my music 🙂

Comment. It gives me a reason not to clean my house.

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