You know, I just can't listen to the radio or read the web without someone shaking their heads and - in a tone of voice which is both wry and yet relieved to finally be on the Cutting Edge - announce that the whole idea of the CD and attendant packaging is now dead and disposable, thanks to the proliferation of ripping technology, Napster and probably Global Warming or any of the other late-breaking buzzwords that get slung around like hash in a greasy spoon.

I'm sorry, did I miss the funeral? I would have brought a cake if I'd known. You see, to me the CD was not rendered dead by the introduction of cheap consumer-side digital music tools any more than SCUBA gear rendered obsolete the idea of having a closed ecosystem to sustain our lives on this Island Earth.

There's a world of difference between buying a CD and setting up Napster or Gnutella to snag you the songs, track by track. When you get yourself a CD, first and foremost you have something that you can hold in your hands, stick on your shelves and know that hey... it's yours. There's pride in ownership involved here, and if you don't think that's important to the consumer base then you obviously don't know what makes people purchase VW Things. I'm bloody proud to hold nearly every Rush album in existence, simply because now I know that I've supported the band with my purchases and have made a true fiscal commitment to their music. Further, a person who looks at my CD Carousel will almost instantly recognize me as a Rush fan and be Suitable Impressed(tm) by the magnitude of my devotion. The same can't be said of MP3s; how often has anyone been impressed by the size of your Rip discs (most people aren't, unless you're in a reeeaaaally freaky chat-room and if you have been, then I don't want to know about it, thankye). Heck, I even have pride in ownership on crappy CDs... I can point to my eight volume set of the Countdown Singers Sing The Hits of the 80s with a kind of B-movie pride (oy, what was I thinking); or indicate my Cybervoid CD with a flush of embarrassed glee and just say 'man, now I know better'. There's no permanence to your mistakes when you download tracks off of the net. Your mistakes are disposable and while that might be good in the short-term, where the HECK are your memories supposed to come from?

Further, moving away from the fairly mercenary side of "I've got mine" in this argument, CDs (or even tapes, yes I have some of those old magnetic monoliths in my collection... and a couple of 8-tracks that I will not ever, ever, ever play again) can sometimes come rather beautifully packaged. Ever taken a good look at the cover of a Yes album? You can really lose yourself for a while in one just staring. What about the old designations that REM used to have for the sides of their tapes (something we've sadly lost with the advent of a CD-based society), such as 'Breakfast side' and 'Dinner side'? Or the lyrics, folded neatly into cases, packed with other mood-striking art, little comments written after the songs... these are all little things, but in a properly packaged album, the little things can really add up to a full experience above and beyond the music itself.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly of all, albums provide a sort of consensual boundary for the artist's work. While some singers will slap their music onto a record willy-nilly and call it a day, my favorite bands often will write music for their albums that form a theme, be it a strong one (such as Styx's The Grand Illusion) or a hidden but creeping theme (much as any Alan Parson's Project album seems to hold hidden themes). This boundary allows listeners to share in a common experience... take, for example, the case of Rush's Presto. On my millionth listen to this album, I was suddenly struck by a powerful feeling of epiphany... and by the end of my millionth-plus-one listen, a fictional character about whom I currently write had birthed herself through the combination of songs that I'd heard.Now I could tell a friend that Presto had created this character, tell them to go back and listen to the album, and watch as they begin to see from where I'm coming. But had I just been listening to a collection of MP3s, it wouldn't have been the same. I'd just be listening to a loose assortment of MP3s bound into a temporary order -- which isn't *bad* mind you -- and even if I'd told someone to listen to that collection in the same order that I had, they wouldn't bring to the listening their own past perceptions of the album. And that would be sad.

Rips, MP3s, Napster (and even Hamster Warming) all have their place in today's society. I just think that it's alongside of CDs rather than in place of them.

What's the bandwidth, Kenneth?

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