i’ve been meaning to write a post for a while now about the secondhand books one finds in a shop.  the guardian had a nice piece over the summer that i hoped to replicate on bark, and thus learn all about your favorite discoveries, dear reader(s).  then i had to go and fucking ruin it by not writing that post.  not to mention that jonathan and cathie wrote such lovely posts about used books that my original idea just seems stupid by comparison.  so now i’m gonna do something totally, totally different.  i’m gonna write about used cds instead.

partially inspired by my recent re-watching of high fidelity and partially inspired by a need to acquire x-mas gifts for my siblings, i took a trip last weekend to my favorite purveyor of music—a little shop i used to live around the corner from called permanent records.  i went in seeking a few, specific, special edition cds for my sibs.  which i did not find.  the shop actually had all the things i was looking for, but only on vinyl.  and the shop’s former cd section, which had been really quite impressive in size, has now been cut in half to make way for more vinyl.

don’t get me wrong—i love the wax.  i got a turntable at home, and a crate full of albums.  but there’s only certain kinds of albums i like to buy on vinyl: the kind i know i’m gonna want to sit with.  the nature of the record-playing machine is such that it commands your attention.  you can’t get up and walk away, because you’re gonna have to flip the fucking thing after like four songs.  it’s less than ideal for when you’re doing a big pile of dishes, or taking a long bath, or doing any kind of work that gets your hands dirty and/or wet.  with records, i like to put on some giant earphones and chill out on the couch for a bit.  by way of example, i bought vinyl versions of smile, in rainbows, portishead, passover, and desperate youth, bloodthirsty babes.

but most of the time i like the portability of cds: to play in the car, to quickly put on the stereo and let fly, to rip into mp3s.  more importantly, though, i’ve never had a fraction of the success in browsing vinyl that i’ve had with cds.  i didn’t find x-mas gifts at permanent, but i still dropped nearly $60 on cds that i didn’t even know existed before i walked into that shop.  and i’m afraid that experience is about to go by the wayside.  but when i bitched about the disappearing used cd rack at permanent, my friend said i was relic, that cds were dead, and it was all vinyl or mp3s/streaming songs online now, and also maybe that i should stop bitching.

but i don’t believe there’s a true equivalent to that spontaneous, surprise purchase when you’re browsing in the iTunes store.  at best you get a recommendation based on what other customers have bought.  and for me, the point of the browsing is to find stuff that’s totally unlike the other stuff i’ve already bought.  i (inexplicably) have a great fondness for browsing the hip hop & electronic cds when i go to a record store.  i rarely listen to hip hop or electronic music.  i certainly have no desire to listen to hip hop or electronic music on vinyl.  but i have found some fucking gems in those sections over the years (frequently from dj spooky).

so to bring this full circle, i’m all about learning what your favorite used cd surprise finds have been—the ones you didn’t even know were a thing in this world, but you were able to get because someone else gave it away, and now they hold a cherished place in your diseased little heart.  a top five of second lives, as it were.  mine is as follows:

  1. shades of blue: madlib invades blue note, madlib
  2. basically every album i’ve ever randomly picked up by (smog): knock knock, dongs of sevotion, and rain on lens
  3. earthling, david bowie
  4. who’s your new professor, sam prekop
  5. bootleg series volume 1: the quine tapes, the velvet underground
    and a bonus album in honor of the cd’s invention: the bonus track
  6. horses: 30th anniversary legacy edition (with a bonus track AND a full bonus live cd), patti smith


also: happy freakin’ holidays, ya’all.


  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    I’ve also been going back to cds. For awhile I was just buying digital stuff from itunes but I kind of hate itunes, so now I want to buy only either vinyl or disc.

    • Jason Sommer jason says:

      i used to get stuff from itunes, but i kinda phased that out. it’s too easy for me to just forget about all those mp3s in some folder on a computer. but cds (and vinyl) are these things that take up space in my apartment. and i’ve been finding that i’m listening to discs i stumble across that i would just skim right over in itunes. a stack of cds – at home, or in a shop – is just so damned easy to scan and pick stuff out of.

      it’s that last bit that i’m gonna miss the most if/when cds are gone. i don’t know if cds get enough credit for how well they’re designed. yeah, they’re not as big & pretty as vinyl albums – but even a massive library of discs is ridiculously easy to dig through. and they’re not as awkward to store or tote around as vinyl. and this might be an unintended consequence of their design, but that square plastic case & that thin disc gives the object just enough of an air of disposability to create a terrific secondhand market. vinyl you buy because you’re invested it – you wanna keep it.

  • Cathie Smathie says:

    Good timing. The other day I was lamenting to a friend over the fact that my car has been broken into 3X in the past year. I said, with deep earnestness, “I just don’t understand why they’ve never stolen all my CDs.”
    He paused before saying “think about what you just said..”

    I still don’t get it. They’d get away with such a rad used CD collection.

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