Maybe the pandemic has finally driven me mad. Why else would I write about my CD rack? And who still uses CDs, when you can stream? Which century do I belong to? That’s far too many questions to start any story off with, I’m sure you’ll agree. Bear with me. I’m losing it.
The thing about my CD rack is that there’s many stories contained within it. I also happen to stare at it while I’m busy drumming, and as that happens pretty much every day, it’s a well-stared at rack. That sounds rude. Nice rack! It’s not that kind of rack.
I happen to like CDs, because they last for decades. I use them for two reasons. Firstly, I play them in my car; they keep me company when I travel. Secondly, I use them to play along with when I drum. I’m stuck inside my house while Covid-19 does its thing, but I’ve got hundreds of artists cooped up inside with me, and the best part of being a drummer is that I can play along with just about all of them. I don’t even have to know what key the song is in, I just find the beat, and off I go.
I started collecting CDs about 25 years ago, in the mid-90s, when cassettes and albums started going out of fashion. Hardly any of the CDs I own are new, though, because they were just too damn expensive to buy off the shelves of music shops (remember music shops?). When I got a break between writing stories and taking photos at work I would visit second-hand music shops in Melville and Northcliff. Even used CDs were expensive: I just hauled one out the rack and it’s marked at R149. In those days, that was a lot of Tom.
A large proportion of the collection comprises CDs that I copied. I was lucky to live with a couple of musicians with decent collections, and in the pre-streaming days this was like a miner hitting the motherlode. Copying CDs is relatively easy compared to making cassettes from albums — this had to be done in real time — and you had to sit and watch the album in case the needle got stuck. It was a good excuse to socialise: I would go visit a mate, take three or four cassettes along with me, and spend the afternoon making tapes.
The CDs that I copied from my musician friends have their names marked along the spine in Tippex, another relic from a bygone era. The Tippex-marked CDs are actually easier to find than the originals, as I wrote the album names in large capital letters. I still use a Tippex pen to mark which tracks are best to drum along to, if the cover has a dark background. If it has a white background, I use a black or blue biro (also known as a ballpoint pen).
The rack itself was a birthday present my wife ordered for me from a pal who lived in Pretoria. The bottom shelf is slightly larger than the rest, to accommodate DVDs. These were also bought from second-hand shops, and some were copied from friends before Netflix made such pain-staking labour unnecessary. The Pretoria pal, who was quite a handyman, died last year from Parkinson’s. His was a lonely death, but for old people, that’s the norm these days, especially in coronavirus times.
Racks are handy things to place knick-knacks on, and there’s a tale behind each object on mine. There’s a wooden crocodile that an alcoholic acquaintance gave me just before he died. He was an irritating chap in his last few years, with terrible halitosis, and he knew he had got my back up on a previous visit, so the croc was a gift that doubled as a panacea or an apology. I forgave him for breathing at me.
Next to the croc is a knife that formed part of my father’s collection. It’s a big Bowie knife with no particular function now. I like to fool myself that in the event of a break-in, I will know where all the deadly weapons are; the thieves won’t. But I know it’s best to co-operate in these situations: I used to carry a knife until it got used on me in a mugging.
Keeping the knife company is my wife’s late father’s old pipe. Again, this has no utility, as neither of us smoke, but hey, sentimentality reigns in our house (anyone reading this likely picked that up long ago).
There’s also a coffee-making pot from Ethiopia, one of those used for the original way of making coffee, with the grinds inside the water. This came from a friend who visited the east African country, and though I love coffee-making ceremonies, I must confess I’ve never got round to using it. It does look good, though, as do the two tokoloshes that flank it. They come from central Africa, and were a gift from my ex. One has a huge, uncircumcised penis. I hope they have powerful, protective juju.
All of the above objects rest on the top shelf of my CD rack. Scattered between the CDs are a few more trinkets. There’s a pair of wooden frogs that have been used extensively for “sound journeys”. Only the hippies among us will know what a sound journey is: a group of folk lie on their backs, heads facing inward. In the centre of the head circle is the person creating sounds from a bunch of acoustic instruments such as wooden frogs, chimes, drums and like. It’s really soothing, and, if done properly, can be quite transporting/transforming/trance-y. As I said, hippie stuff.
We’re getting to the end of the list now. There’s a wooden box with a bunch of spare keys. Boring, but undeniably useful when you’ve somehow mislaid your house or car keys. A VHS tape with wildlife footage set to the music of a maskande band I once played for. We were never paid for this, though it was flighted across the globe. An old metronome, the mechanical kind, but I don’t use it because my electronic one has more functions, and it doesn’t have to be constantly wound up.
Convenience. Everything is geared towards that today. Already there are fridges that tell you the milk is running low. Do we really need that? What’s next, a fridge that runs to the shop and buys your milk for you? (Hey, is your fridge running? Mine is). I started with a bunch of questions, and I’m leaving you with one: streaming music may be more convenient, Jack, but if I got rid of my CD rack, where the hell would I put all my bric-à-brac?