Let Them Play Cake

Happy 33rd Birthday to CDs, which are all now shoved into your damp and humid crawlspaces

September 21, 2017
CDs
Ami Vitale

INDIANAPOLIS — Thirty-three years ago today, an event of monumental cultural significance took place just down the road here in Terre Haute, Ind., a quiet, unassuming southern Indiana town known primarily for smelling like a barn full of tire fires.

The event: The first-ever production of a music compact disc—a.k.a. the CD—which occurred on Sept. 21, 1984, forever burning in Indiana’s place in music history, alongside (rifles through papers) Michael Jackson and Cole Porter and Axl Rose and Hoagy Carmichael and John Mellencamp and David Lee Roth and Wes Montgomery and yes I get me a little defensive about Indiana. You guys make your flyover-corn and Fat Bob Knight gags, but without us, there would be no “Mr. Brownstone” and that is a Hoosier fact.

(FUN FACT: The first CD ever made in America? It was a pretty good one.)

I bring this up because:

  1. This is the internet, which is piteously obsessed with literally any droplet of culture that previously existed anywhere ever, and...

  2. If you are of a certain age, meaning the age where you held music on a thing in your hands, it’s hard to overstate how big of a deal CDs were.

Today, most CDs and CD-related activities seem profoundly insane, like paying for music. But at one time, CDs were magic. They were novel and precious currency. And though they’re now about as rare as a bag of Cheetos, they used to be basically the biggest thing about your Tuesdays. Releases were events that required waiting anxiously through pre-Algebra and senior English to pile in the ‘85 Escort and pick up the Use Your Illusion albums. They required anticipation, planning, the crucial decision of whether to spend your $14 of mowing money on Skid Row or Roxette. They involved being OK with pointless, tree-murdering longboxes, developed because music stores didn’t want to “change their displays from album-sized” so it figured let’s just produce untold amount of extraneous instant garbage. They involved the profoundly insane idea of getting in a car and driving to a place to buy music, rather than having it unimpressively materialize on the device you use to make your face look like a cartoon kittycat. I mean, sure, in no other business do you pay $18 for an object you’re not sure you’ll remotely like, but I feel like the industry had their come-to-Jesus moment when we all started stealing their music anyway, so, push.

Today, a scant 33 years later, those things are all dead on the ground, shot full of holes by a comically villainous industry that failed to anticipate change, and a populace that decided paying $19 for a single Blues Traveler album enabled them to steal a few songs here or there or a billion times. Last year, I watched in horror as my sharp, bright 12-year-old struggled to open a jewel case for a full 20 seconds. Vinyl’s all swanky and some fools have even resuscitated cassettes; I’ve had boxes of CDs turned away at the library. THE LIBRARY. YOU GUYS GIVE STUFF AWAY FOR A JOB. Also, one of my cousins told me that “Grandpa and Grandma” have a lot of CDs, so thanks Eva, I’m killing myself now.

And thus, my shiny prized collection, once my prime tactic for not impressing girls for years at a time, got parceled out, mass-dumped at the Goodwill, the remnants stuffed somewhere in the humid damp attic, collecting spiders in a tub next to my other forgotten high-school stuff, waiting until a day some decades in the future when my sons clean out my house and chuck them on a tire fire. Except “Born in the U.S.A.,” and “Appetite for Destruction,” obviously.


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