Through its deluge of year-end retrospectives and various forms of commemorative nostalgia (like those little novelty books you can buy at the Cracker Barrel that tell you what the mean price of gas was the year you were born), culture teaches us to observe our listening habits (among others) in 365-day cycles--to hold records released this Jan-Dec up to a different contextual yardstick than those released last Jan-Dec, and to once again wipe the slate clean when Dick Clark's famous ball plummets to zero and Ryan Seacrest shakes several pounds of confetti from his impeccably coiffed mane to announce whatever crossover country singer has been tapped that year to ring in the festivities. All of which is reasonable and good. As customary measurements of time go, the year is almost assuredly the most sensible one to use for keeping tabs on such things; creating dedicatory fanfare for "album of the month" seems a little extraneous, and too hard to remember over time, while archiving the development of the art form across five- or even ten-year stretches (without first marking the lesser increments, that is) leaves too much stuff out.
So, for better or worse, that is how I, like many other dorks who have invested more of their lives than common sense ought to permit in worrying about these things, document my growth as a listener. Throw out any year at random and I can tell you almost without fail what was occupying space in my CD player that year, what sort of "phase" I was concurrently going through, and the memories almost always exist in these perfectly symmetrical windows of reminiscence that wind down around the holidays come to a screeching halt on New Year's Eve, only to begin anew the next morning. So rare is it that I recall, for example, an arbitrary span of six months from October through March where I was really into a specific artist, even though I know there have been many cases of it over the years (how couldn't there be?)--the cutoff lines are always way sharper than that in my brain. It's possible that this is due to the fact that, unless the listening kick in question is just so extended and all-encompassing that it's the only thing that consumes my memory from a particular time (this would be like the summer of 2001 where a friend from work and I listened to virtually nothing but '70's Elton John for four straight months), I tend to link most albums not to the time I spent listening to them but to the day I acquired them--Louis Armstrong's The Katanga Concert, for instance, I will always equate with the Christmas of 2008, when I received it as a present from my wife on our first Christmas together after she took careful note of my expression of fondness for the song "La Vie En Rose" when I heard it in Pixar's WALL-E. Of course, allowing this record to remain affiliated with that particular year is inaccurate, as unless I played it obsessively for seven days only to shelve it forevermore thereafter (which is not the case, as Katanga would fast grow into my favorite Armstrong album, even though it's essentially little more than a commercial bootleg), I would have had to allow my listening to carry over into the following year if I was to absorb the album with any depth at all.
If you've read this blog at all, it's no secret to you that I have a kind of weird fascination with my own listening habits--sometimes I think I think, if I look hard enough, I'll be able to unravel by way of my own personal listening history some sort of secret about who I am, or why I am the way I am, which is stupid because at this point in my life (two weeks from birthday the thirtieth) I feel like I have a relatively decent handle on those things anyway. Last year, for example, I made a more deliberate effort to discover new music than I'd made for about five years--the major stuff would always find its way to me regardless, but last year was the first in many that I really made it a point to seek out material that was off my radar completely, follow up on the dozens of recommendations I get on a weekly basis, and allow myself to acquire things less cautiously under the premise that sometimes just having a record in your keep and living with it for a while, experiencing it in different circumstances over time, is the only way to achieve the proper relationship with it. Beach House's Bloom and Vijay Iyer's Accelerando were a couple albums like that for me last year--two discs that now amount to major pieces in my collection, both of which I would have totally missed had I continued under the sort of passive, laissez-faire approach to music appreciation that I'd grown comfortable with in the years prior. Bloom in particular was the first record in a number of years (probably since the first Fleet Foxes album) where I found myself on occasion feeling flashes of that "new favorite album" rush I used to get as a teenager when I'd fall in love with a new CD, where I would find myself unusually impatient to get out of school (or off work, in this case--and my impatience for both of these things is always sky-high even at baseline levels) just to listen to it, where there were so many good songs on it that I would seldom make it through a full track without getting antsy to skip to the next one. I hope I never lose the pursuit of that feeling, that transcendence so nearly unattainable that most of what you end up retaining are the bits of almost-good-enough shrapnel you manage to collect along the way, the stuff that ultimately affords the rare bits of unparalleled treasure (the Blooms) to expand into what guys like me call a collection.
So far, as a matter of contrast, 2013 has been a year of my collection--the collection I have already collected, more specifically. To everything, Pete Seeger and Roger McGuinn once recited from the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a season, and after 2012's long and bountiful harvest, this has been a springtime of basking. Something that always intrigues me about people who are consistently on top of the latest thing (or, nowadays, the latest fifty things) is whether or not they ever have time to reap the rewards of all the previous latest things they've discovered, because I simply don't process music that quickly--or rather, that deeply that quickly, and I'm always looking for things that are going to serve me more than just the couple of weeks or months that they're novel. That said, one of the big lessons of last year's mass accumulation was that listening broadly at a rapid rate actually affords many things a far greater staying power than seems intuitive, because you're plowing through things quicker than the other things have time to get stale, which was a much greater risk when I was a teenager and could only afford to buy one new CD per month and had a much, much smaller collection to carry me through. I've probably listened to the first fifty CD's I bought, cumulatively, more times than I've listened to everything else in my collection combined, just by virtue of sheer economy. I don't have that problem anymore, which is probably part of why I don't stumble upon as many life-changing records anymore, but probably also part of why I don't get flat-out sick of things the same way I used to on occasion. With cash being tight for a while (we're probably going to be buying a house this summer), I am thankful for those two decades' worth of sonic art that towers over every guest that enters our front door. I pretty much have the music collection I always dreamed about as a kid, back when the idea of a recordable compact disc seemed like something out of an Aldous Huxley novel.
I've given serious thought to starting a new blog called Geek vs. Randomizer, in which I simply make a list of every single CD I own, put them into an online randomizer, listen to them, and blog about them one at a time. I love the idea of it, and find myself giddy at the idea of how many things I'd find in my own collection that I never knew (or had forgotten) was there. I made the list the other night (it took about a half hour); I have 1,009 albums in my collection, not counting bootlegs or anything on recordable media, which would (conservatively) add another 400-500. Many of those albums are 2CD collections; some of them are 6CD box sets. I love the idea of the project, and some of the serendipitous juxtapositions the randomizer would inevitably come up with by accident--I anticipate hilarity ensuing over the stringent rules I will assuredly enforce upon the procedure, such as not caring whether or not it's my and my wife's anniversary dance, the randomizer dictates we will listen to Metallica's Ride the Lightning and that's that. But I have my misgivings. For one, with 1,009 albums, even if I did one album per day (which I guarantee will be utterly impossible) and accumulated no new music between now and the end of the project (similarly impossible), it would take upwards of three years to complete the exercise--I don't know if I have the patience to complete something like that, as it would almost surely become a chore shortly into it. For two, I am utterly horrified and intimidated by the amount of Pearl Jam on the list (official bootlegs and what have you); I fear that, by the end of the experiment, I would absolutely never want to hear a single note of my favorite band's music ever again. So who knows. Somehow, though, I find myself wanting to come up with a way to systematically navigate this large body of work I've managed to fill my home with, a way to organize it in thought and in word, perhaps only to prove to myself that all the years of amassing hasn't been for naught--to find, on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, some secret to those first three decades buried there in the jewel cases, digipaks, and faded sleeve notes that have thus far dictated the course of my existence.