Let me talk about my old computer for a second.
It’s venerable. It’s cobbled together from various parts, not purchased new, but recycled. God knows how it all works. I certainly don’t, as I got my friend Chris to build it. I know so little about computers that it was 18 months before I realised you were supposed to clean them.
(embedded throughout are tracks that you should DEFINITELY listen to. Even if you hate me and don’t care what I have to say. They’re just that good)
Anyway, a while back, it died. Not sure on the particulars, but it stopped working with regularity and we had to shell out for a new gaming rig, which explains the presence of The Computron – a red-cased behemoth a full two feet tall that has more fans than I know what to do with and glows blue when it’s angry, and Computron is always angry.
It’s been almost a year since I touched my old computer: so wowed over was I by the features of Windows 7 (draggable pictures! Auto-resizing windows! Some… other stuff, right?) that I promptly forgot about it and shoved it under the bed. Last year’s model, man. It’s old. All my important stuff is stored on Google Docs, anyway. Whatever. We’re moving on. Moving into the cloud. Iphones. Synergy. All that. Yeah.
This afternoon, I booted it up partially out of nostalgia and partially out of the fact that I’d run out of music to listen to, and I felt that copying over stuff that I’d already stolen was slightly more honest than stealing it again. It’s a moral grey area, certainly. Neither are what the recording artists would have wanted, but fuck ’em, eh? Fight the power.
This computer was born back in the days before Spotify, and before Youtube really took hold. It’s a computer with its roots in University Halls, in that parts of it were Chris’ computer that he used there and there are echoes on the hard-drive of my venerable laptop that saw me through three years of study and near-perpetual masturbation. Echoes in that you can track the path of data back to certain moments before it even existed.
UEA, quite wisely, didn’t allow illegal downloads and I certainly wasn’t clever enough to circumvent whatever means they’d used to stop us (and, again, this is back in the days before Rapidshare was big enough to be useful, so it was torrents all the way). So we made do. I’d find people with media that I wanted and ask to copy it to USB, often over a series of trips, and then upload it to my laptop back in my room. I used to carry a 1GB stick around my neck on a lanyard. I was a badass, clearly.
The loose tracks at the bottom of my music folder have history, then. They have weight. The albums pass me by, but the tracks stand out. A couple of tracks from Kent, a Swedish rock group, that my ex-girlfriend got into when she was staying in Norway – and these weren’t even sent to me at Uni, these pre-date it and were burned onto CD and copied onto my laptop when I moved to England in 2005. These songs, downloaded from Limewire by a 16-year-old American girl, have followed me all the way through three cities, six houses, and nine years.
Ghostwriter, by RJD2, has been with me for ten after I picked up a bonus CD after buying a Coldplay album at HMV. Existentialism on Prom Night by Straylight run was taken off Chris one night, and neither of us liked the track but the band name takes inspiration from William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, so naturally it had to stay. His computer, and all his music and stored files, crashed spectacularly one day in 2008 and the hard drive fried itself into a useless lump. All of it was gone. The data stream ends with me.
Let Go by Frou Frou, a beautiful piece of music, was stolen in week two of first year using OurTunes, a shady piece of software that let you download shares Itunes music library songs on the same network. We took what we could get. Although I couldn’t be sure, I think the original was owned by a pretty Australian girl on the third floor of my flat, but seeing as I never managed to drum up the courage to speak to her I’ll never know.
There’s more. A grab-bag of Laura Veirs tracks in no particular order have been shuffled around every computer I’ve ever owned, even backwards, taking them back home to Portugal on that same flash drive and uploading them to older machines so I could listen on sticky-hot summer nights. The soundtrack to the astonishingly well-scored Deus Ex: Invisible War was taken from a man entirely appropriately-named Big Ian, off an external hard drive he brought to provide music for a game of DragonMech.
(an aside – I also downloaded a remix of the Spicy Girl theme tune from anime Di Gi Charat that same night for reasons I can’t remember. It was balls-out ridiculous, but my cousin and I got into it and drank white port and danced around to it, smoking cigarettes. I can’t find it, now. It’s gone)
As an exception to the “no albums” rule, Get In by Shift is stuck to me forever. Shift are a band no-one has heard of. Get In isn’t a particularly good album: whiney college rock at the best of times, and self-indulgent wank at worst. But I picked it up for a dollar in a record store in Iowa, the record store that my then-girlfriend’s brother worked at, and I know for a fact that no-one else is listening to Get In now. That’s mine to carry. I have to keep it alive, even if I never listen to it. It’s not buried away in a record collection. I can’t leave it behind, even if the CD I brought it on is long gone.
There’s the Poe track that a girl I fancied said she liked this one time whilst we were both outside of a bottle of cheap red wine, and a Static-X song that a friend used as a theme tune in a game I ran once, and the Maximo Park song I listened to on repeat as I sat in my ex’s flat and realised that it was all over, but I was going to have to stick it out until we were both ready to deal with the fallout. It took ten months after that to sever connections.
These aren’t stored in the cloud, accessible from anywhere. They’re buried on dead computers, ferried across on USB drives, burnt to CDs, hand-picked and curated. They’re a torch, passed. These songs are pinpricks in time. These songs are my permanent playlist.