The Paths We Choose

My 52nd birthday rolled around recently. As a gift to myself, I ordered a half-dozen new CDs from Amazon.

Yes, I realize that it’s not necessary to have an actual CD on hand in order to listen to music nowadays – if you have an MP3 player or a smart phone which will hold and play music, you can download just about any song or album ever produced. And sometimes I do.

But I’m an old-fashioned consumer, I guess. I like to have a real CD, nestled safely in its little jewel case or cardboard box. Opening it is like opening an oyster and finding the pearl! I like to read the liner notes, because they provide all sorts of nuggets of important information.  Sometimes there are even song lyrics, so I don’t have to consult some lame-ass lyric website, which is just as likely to get the words wrong as I will myself. Still, downloading does have its advantages.

The main one being that it eliminates the process of extracting a CD case from the protective plastic wrapper, which poses more challenges to the average consumer than a rear-hook bra does to a fumbling adolescent boy making out with his girlfriend on the couch in the game room.

What kind of sick bastard came up with CD packaging? I understand the need for a security strip so you can’t stuff a dozen CDs in your purse or the pockets of your cargo shorts and then waltz out of Best Buy without paying. But once you’ve bought the damn thing, you need an engineering degree to get the package open. It’s not going on a space mission, for God’s sake!

If I buy a CD in an actual brick-and-mortar retail store, chances are I want to listen to it as soon as possible, like once I get to my car. After the loss-prevention issue has been eliminated, how much more protection does the CD need? I paid for the damn thing, but I can’t listen to it because I can’t OPEN IT!

Getting the plastic wrap off requires a sharp implement, which is why I keep a pocket knife in my glove compartment, and that’s not even the end of the process. Get that damned case unwrapped and you still have to pop the CD off the spindle without breaking it. Or a fingernail. Both of which I’ve done.

Sorry, I was ranting, wasn’t I? But it had to be said. CD packaging industry, are you listening??

Where was I? Right! Back to my birthday CDs…

There was a little of everything among my new treasures – an old favorite (Rush’s Permanent Waves) and a new band that intrigued me on a Letterman appearance (The Shins’ Port of Morrow). A new favorite band (Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations,) and a band I knew only by reputation (El Camino, by the Black Keys). Finally, there was Green Day’s American Idiot, and the brand new People, Hell and Angels, a collection of twelve never-released studio recordings from the legendary Jimi Hendrix. I heard a lot of Jimi growing up, but this was the first Hendrix album I had purchased for my expanding music collection. It won’t be the last.

When I buy a pair of shoes or a new shirt, I almost always know that I’m going to love it before I leave the store. Music is different for me, though. I have to listen to a new album three or four times before I know what I think of it; I have to try it on and wear it around for a while to make sure it fits me. Once I determine that it does, I like to intersperse it with old favorites. For this reason, my iPhone’s shuffle feature is my best friend. Pick a genre, any genre. Or an artist. Or try out the Genius mix feature. You get a little of everything. It’s pretty fucking amazing.

Anyway, save for my frenzied Foo Fighters CD extravaganza a few summers back, I normally purchase music more prudently. One new album a month, two at the most. So, to say that the birthday array was a little daunting is an understatement. I couldn’t decide where to start.

So I did what any normal denizen of the 21stcentury would do – I sought advice from social media. I posted a photo of my CDs on my Facebook wall and asked what to listen to first. And of course, the answers were as varied as my friends.

“Muse, of course! Silly question!”

“We saw the Shins in Toronto last year, they were great!”

“Go with the Black Keys!”

“Hendrix, DUH!”

I got lots of input – my niece and grandniece were pushing hard for Green Day, and my ever-practical daughter suggested that I go in alphabetical order.

But in the end, I chose Rush. Permanent Waves was a staple of my early years in college, and decades later, when I began to understand that sometimes the lyrics from a particular song can have an influence on your life, I remembered a line from the song “Freewill” which had done so. In retrospect, it was this particular line that I had filed away, carried through my adulthood, and pulled out of long-term memory whenever I’d been faced with making a decision. 

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” 

Why that line stuck with me so tenaciously, I can’t say. But it did. Not just in my college days but many times, from then until now. It reminded me that sometimes, we are forced to choose a path, even when we are scared to move, because not choosing just leaves us idling where we are. The paths we choose may not be exactly right, but moving forward is almost always better than just sitting still.

Sounds like my life. Maybe yours, too.

And remember what I said about those liner notes? They really are important. All these years I’ve given primary credit for “Freewill” to Rush front man Geddy Lee, so imagine my surprise to learn that the lyrics which nudged me along on so many occasions were written by drummer Neal Peart. 

I wonder if he likes fried chicken…

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2 thoughts on “The Paths We Choose

  1. I don't know why but the “shuffle” feature is what aids my late onset ADD, most likely caused by teaching public school. I can no longer listen to one album all the way through. Unless it's Steely Dan. Don't judge.

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