To my future child,
I can’t imagine the world you’re living in. When I was young, things seemed so much more simple. I think things probably always seem more simple when you’re young. I hope so. I hope your life is simple, and that you can stop and enjoy the little things when you need to.
I’m in my twenties now, and things are moving faster than ever. Some of that is because I live in New York City, where seeing bikes get hit by cars is a weekly thing, and where if you move too slowly, you get cut off by some asshole who is liable to, ironically, call you an asshole for not moving fast enough. The other development speeding my world up is the internet. Calling the internet a “development” probably sounds crazy to you. Can you believe I grew up without the internet?
When I was a kid, I ate bugs and played with sticks for fun. I didn’t have all the answers to the world at my fingertips. Instead, I had to rely on other human beings with more life experience for answers, or I had to use my imagination. I was lucky because your grandfather was a very smart man, and your grandmother was an ex-hippie with a really beautiful way of viewing the world. I hope that you still depend on other human beings. I know you can probably find whatever you need on the internet, and I know your phone is probably a million times smarter than the phones we have today (which is hard for me to comprehend right now), but I hope that you still ask questions sometimes. I hope that you ask me questions, and I hope that I can give you good answers.
I have a lot to say to you, but in this letter I want to talk about music. Music was always really important to me, and as I got older it became my one true passion. From The Beatles to Michael Jackson to Nirvana to 2Pac, the music I grew up listening to shaped the way I view the world. I was always an anxious kid, so music helped me get my head straight—it was my escape, and when you’re a kid, that’s a really important thing sometimes. I hope you’re not anxious, but you probably are. That’s my fault. Sorry. Eventually, music became the focus of my free time and somehow I managed to turn it into my job. It’s pretty great. I get to listen to music and write about it, and people actually pay me money for it. LOL. Do you still say LOL? I hope not.
But lately, I can see the way people connect with music changing. I’m not one who wants to hang on to the past—I think the future of music is exciting and full of potential, but there are a few things that I’m sad you’ll never experience. You’ve probably heard of CDs, right? Can you believe that when I was a kid, that’s how we used to listen to music? We used to actually pay money for this disc with 12 or so songs it. I used to spend all the money I had on CDs. When I ran out of money, I used to steal them. I got caught. Don’t steal.
It probably seems crazy now. You probably have access to all the music in the world, but back then if you wanted to hear something, you had to hear it on the radio, go to a concert, or buy it on CD. I had so many CDs. I hope that I still have a few of my favorites to share with you, but honestly I’ll probably throw them out because they take up a lot of space and I live in New York City, so space is pretty limited.
As soon as I was old enough to drive, one of my favorite places in the world was a little record shop called Volt Music in Danbury, CT. I used to drive there and spend an hour or so looking through all the CDs. Sometimes I’d go in there with no idea of what I wanted, and sometimes I’d pick out CDs based on the cover art. That’s how I found some of my favorite CDs. I remember seeing the cover of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or and buying it just because I wanted to hear what kind of music the guy on the cover was making. I didn’t like that CD on first listen. I thought all the songs sounded alike, but I just spend $15 and I felt like I needed to get something out of my investment, so I kept listening to it. Today, that’s one of my favorite CDs of all time. Whenever I listen to it, I remember those first weeks of playing that CD while driving around Connecticut. I remember when it clicked with me for the first time, and I remember telling my friends about this Elliott Smith guy and how amazing this album was. “You’ve got to listen to it a few times, but give it a chance. It’ll grow on you,” I told them.
By the time you read this, the idea of buying a CD will probably be so foreign, but let me tell you: it was awesome. As soon as I left the store, I’d use my car key to frantically rip through the plastic covering. That was such a beautiful feeling. All my CD covers were scratched up, but cutting through that plastic, ripping open the case, and peeling off the plastic sticker that held the case close was one of the most satisfying feelings that I’ll forever associate with music. I used to sit in my car in the parking lot of Volt, reading through the liner notes and looking through the pictures in the CD booklet while track one started playing. The speakers in my car were terrible because I blew them almost immediately after gaining access to a vehicle, but the slight buzzing from the right side of the car didn’t bother me. To this day, I don’t care much about sound quality, and the reason for that is probably because I spent so many years listening to music through car speakers that buzzed from one side.
After I got a new CD, I’d drive around even if I had nowhere to go. The winding roads of Connecticut were perfect for long drives. I fell in love with so much music driving on those those roads. After I finished high school, I left Connecticut and I haven’t lived there since. I went back once to see what the town I grew up in looked like. Volt Music was long gone. A lot of those little independent record shops are gone now. My heart sunk a little when I saw that old parking lot where I first listened to LCD Soundsystem and Neutral Milk Hotel.
I don’t think the magic of music is at all diminished by the fact that people don’t go to record stores anymore, but I’d be lying if I said that it doesn’t make me a little sad that you’ll never know the feeling of going to record shop, ripping open a CD with your car key, and sitting in the parking lot while track one plays. Do car keys even exist anymore? Oh my god, you’re probably in an automated flying vehicle right now, and I’m probably all like, “Back in my day…” I’m probably wearing something embarrassing. I’m sorry.
When I started college, services like Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa were in full swing and downloading music (illegally) on the internet was the norm for people in my age. It took forever if you consumed the amount of music we did, but we just downloaded hundreds of songs and albums at once and left our computers running all night. When we woke up, we had more new music than we could handle. It was awesome. Then the RIAA came along. They are probably still around, and they are probably still being dicks. They couldn’t stop the entire movement and they couldn’t shut down all the illegal services quickly enough, so they started suing individuals to make examples out of them. Soon everyone was scared that if they downloaded a new album, they’d lose all their money. A few people actually did. It was a real mess.
It took a while for that to fade away (it still hasn’t completely), but right now streaming services are taking over. Right now, I can listen to pretty much any music I want without having to buy it or own it. I pay $10 a month for a Spotify subscription and get access to almost everything I could want. A lot of artists started giving away music for free. And of course, illegal downloading still exists. I haven’t bought a CD in years, and most of the time I don’t miss it or think about it. I got a record player and I started buying vinyl just so I could try to replicate the experience of owning something physical attached to music, but it’s not the same when you know that you can just go on Spotify and press play. The sound quality is different, but after years of listening to music on buzzing car speakers, I don’t care much about that. It’s fun though. I like to have “things.”
Music is still my passion. I still connect with songs and albums and they mean just as much to me. I just saw Neutral Milk Hotel in concert for the first time the other night, and I’m still in awe. When I press play on a song and I fall in love with it, it still gives me a little surge of excitement in the pit of my stomach that I hope you’ll get when you really love a song. But it’s different, and that’s undeniable. I can listen to all the music in the world whenever I want. It’s no less special, but it’s different.
When you have to make that trip to the record store, spend your money, and get burned on shitty albums sometimes, it makes you appreciate the good ones a little more. When you get to rip open that packaging and drive around listening to one album for weeks, there’s a connection that is hard to replicate in 2014. By the time you start getting into music, that experience will probably be long gone, and you’ll find different ways to connect with music. You’ll probably hear old people like me talking about how you kids don’t appreciate shit because you’ve never had to save up your money to buy that CD that the older kids in school were all talking about. I know, I know, we’re out of touch. But I want you to know what it was like losing that connection, what it’s like to see it slip away. It’s sad. Not because we think it’s wrong or because we think future generations won’t love music like we did, but because we remember how important it felt when we bought a new CD and opened it for the first time.
It’s hard to accept that you’ll experience music in ways that I probably won’t be able to relate to. I hope I never get so out of touch that I’m unwilling to try. If I do, please remind me that I was once young and open-minded. Please remind me that my dad used to tell me that rap music was trash, but when he sat down with me to watch Resurrection and tried to understand, it meant a lot to me. He still doesn’t get it. I hope you like 2pac.
The love for music will always be there, but the little things—like tearing open the plastic on a fresh CD—change. And sometimes it’s those little things that mean the most. I hope things aren’t moving too fast for you to truly appreciate those things, whatever they are. I hope you have some beautiful little things in your life, even if those things don’t include opening a CD.
Your future dad
P.S. I want you to know what it was like to rip that CD packaging open and play a CD, so I got you this old Discman and a CD you can open and listen to. It’s Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. Give it a few listens, it’ll grow on you.