As if life in the post-election United States weren't depressing enough, I recently had to toss hundreds of music magazines into a recycling bin.
I was forced to dispose of these precious belongings in preparation for a move from a one-bedroom Capitol Hill pad to a two-bedroom Beacon Hill apartment that I'm sharing with my girlfriend. (Yes, I'm another statistic/cliché in the great southern migration due to egregious Seattle rent increases.) Though I'll be saving significantly on rent, the situation forced me to consider how much of my identity, indeed my very soul, is contained in the possessions I have amassed.
I'm well aware that in the grand scheme of things, this won't register to much of the world as a huge ordeal, and that's fair. But for a fiftysomething print-media junkie/analog-forever motherfucker like me, it represents an existential crisis.
You may be wondering: How fucking great could these magazines be to cause such an extreme reaction? Good question.
I've been hauling around some of these mags for more than three decades—from Detroit to Cleveland to Seattle to Costa Mesa and back. The publications include Forced Exposure, Conflict, MOJO, Creem, the Wire, XLR8R, Alternative Press, and Jazz Times. The last five are zines for which I've written. In the case of AP, much of that work was done in the 1990s, before everything was published online. Trashing them meant they'd essentially vanish forever. All that work gone—pulverized and transformed into some ecologically sound item or other.
I hope that epic review of Tricky's Pre-Millennium Tension I wrote for AP ends up giving somebody some sort of pleasure in its new form.
With my move-out date approaching, I had to decide. Sure, I wanted to lighten my load, but I also felt the tug of nostalgia, and of something a little harder to define. Was this pride?
Like all writers, I flatter myself that the stuff I've covered might be of use, or at least of interest, to future generations of music nerds and historians. The world will always need to be aware of Hovercraft, Techno- Animal, and Wolfgang Dauner, and I hope my rave reviews of their music somehow survive and turn heads on to them for decades to come. (How those future generations would read this material when it was stashed away in my various apartments is another question altogether.)
But maybe it's liberating to rid yourself of your past every once in a while. Perhaps consigning your archives to the inferno is as healthy for your psyche as it is for the environment. Maybe having your collected works at your fingertips is overrated—particularly when physical space is at such a premium in our current Amazon/Google/Facebook'd-to-the-gills Seattle.
They may not seem like a luxury to anyone but a devout music head, but towering stacks of moldering magazines are a luxury most cannot afford.
On the other calloused hand, these publications—the Wire, MOJO, Forced Exposure, etc.—are phenomenal sources of information that I always thought would come in handy someday for some grand project I would undertake. Because, you know, you can never totally trust the internet or the Cloud to contain every morsel of knowledge I might need.
This meant I had to lug a literal tonnage of glossy and grainy print from city to city till the day I die. (I've paid dearly for this neurosis.) I've always envisioned my death coming at age 112 amid stacks of books, magazines, and records, engrossed in the greatest words and sounds humanity had ever mustered. I'm romantic that way.
The harsh reality is, I can't comfortably fit all my beloved mags in our new space because (plot twist!) I have way too many LPs, CDs, and tapes.
This isn't a story of "dude with music collection meets woman with common sense." My saintly girlfriend is studying for a master's degree in library and information science. She understands the profound importance of info preservation better than most. But even she is less than besotted with the idea of sharing living quarters with hundreds of old XLR8Rs.
I know I could have donated choice titles to the University of Washington's music department or patiently put every blessed copy on eBay (I'd need a team of interns to do it properly, and besides, not even my music-geekiest friends want back issues of Creem from 1987—not even the one with my Shriekback feature). But in the end, this would just prolong the torment. So into the recycling bin they went.
After the lid slammed shut, I felt a mixture of self-pity and remorse, but also something close to freedom—or maybe more accurately, the relief that comes with getting a tumor excised. As satisfying as it is to preserve one's past, most people—including one's significant other—don't give a damn about your acute analyses of records made by hopelessly obscure artists.
Now I'm set free to find a new illusion.