Here’s an opinion that, based on the immediate response coworkers had when I first shared it, is sure to piss a few of you off: CDs are good—so good, that I’d argue they’re the ultimate medium for listening to music while you drive.
I can see why you might disagree. Smartphones, or even an iPod, make more sense for storage and practicality. Why lug around dozens of jewel cases that’ll get smashed, scratch up the CDs inside, and render every album you love unlistenable?
But I have a very specific reason for this, and while some of my colleagues may believe I’m afflicted with a disease, I think it’s the correct opinion.
At 16, when I first started driving, I had a terrible, blood red 1996 Chevy Cavalier. Around this time, iPods—released in 2001—were still relevant, which is great for an obnoxious junior in high school who wants a massive catalogue of songs at his disposal for driving around.
But I couldn’t carry an iPod around for weeks without breaking it. Sometimes, it was my fault; others, the damn thing would break on its own. That’s not to say I didn’t try to use them: during one incredible stretch after my stereo system was stolen, I drove around for weeks with portable computer speakers that had an auxiliary cord for my iPod. It sounded horrendous. Really, though, I actually couldn’t tell you how many iPods I tore through.
So eventually, I gave up on them. Why? I had a boatload of CDs. And no matter what, like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, they were always there for me. I grew to have an admittedly unusual affection for them. The empty space along the inside of my car doors, underneath the stereo, in a shitty plastic bin that held a permanent residence behind my driver’s seat—my cars were always brimming with CDs.
Unlike an iPod or a cassette (though to be sure Andrew Collins’ take here is quite good), CDs can be engrossing. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, some booklets can be a joy to read. People enjoy the act of flipping through vinyl at a record store, but with CDs, there’s a real crisp, memorable pap that I love to hear when you toggle through a collection. It’s one of the most weird, dumb memories that I can vividly remember, someone flipping through my crate while I drove.
I always remembered getting home at the end of a long night, and sitting in the driveway listening to the last perfect song of a perfect album before going inside. With an iPod, you have to unplug it and carry it inside and store the auxiliary cord somewhere. With a CD, the song finishes, and you just get up and go. It’s nice.
CDs get flak for being to easy to break or scratch, and sure, maybe that’s true. But I never had a problem with them. I stored loose burned CDs next to scratched up jewel cases with abhorrent looking discs within, and if one broke, I could get a replacement or lose it to history.
Cassettes have a tender, nostalgic quality to them, but unlike Andrew, I like skipping songs, if necessary. That typically wasn’t a problem, however; in my opinion, my taste is perfect, therefore I only drove around with perfect albums to listen to.
I get it. Today we have the ability to summon whatever artist seems right for an appropriate moment. But CDs don’t need a data plan. And we arguably don’t need millions of songs at our disposal. CDs are aimed at collating the best of the best.
I sold all of my CDs when I moved to New York City. I thought it was funny that so many friends reached out to buy a few. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing. I managed to sell off everything, some 400 discs in total. But every day I miss the experience of sitting in my car and finding something to listen to before setting off, or the needlessly unsafe moments where I’d try to swap discs mid-ride. Maybe CDs have had their moment. But some day they’ll have a prouder history to reflect on, when the rest of you come around and realize how reliable and good they were and still are.