Mine was “Forever Your Girl” by Paula Abdul which was gift-wrapped together with Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” as part of a Christmas present with my new mini-system. Yes, I was ten years old when the boxy Magnasonic arrived under the tree… and I can still remember those CDs vividly. Of course, that’s probably because we went through the four steps of New Record, Tape, or CD Love together:
Step 1: Plenty of fish. Checking posters at the record store, flipping through Columbia House catalogues, flipping through hundreds of plastic-tombed tapes, you’re single and looking for love. Maybe they had a listening booth but most likely you plucked your album based on a song or two from the radio … and the rest was a complete surprise.
Stage 2: The First Time. This is the sweetest stage. All alone in your room you have a quiet moment with your new disc. When you get frustrated with the shrinkwrap you start biting it till it eventually peels off and static-clings to your hand. Next you push the case open, hear the little squeaky crunch as you pull it out of the case, and then gaze at that mirrory scratchless rainbow purity. Quickly peel out the booklet to see what kind of artwork they included and whether the put the lyrics in. Then you put it into the player, hear it spin round, and hold your breath and push play…
Stage 3: Dating Steady. You can’t live without each other. You pop the tape into your Walkman and listen to both sides, both ways, every day. You stick the CD in your car stereo and jam to it every night on your way home. You start memorizing the lyrics, your brain starts hearing the next song after the last one ends, and you start telling everyone about the album…. This is also the stage when you rearrange your life around your new tape or CD. This means taking every other CD out of your dusty tower by your TV and reorder them all alphabetically.
Stage 4: Lost love. It’s not that the love didn’t last. It’s just that your heart moved on and your record or tape didn’t change. You dyed your hair and went punk, fell in love with someone into hip-hop, or maybe got strung out on Top 40 during your blurry Clubland days. Now your first CD or tape sits lonely at the bottom of a shoebox, garage sale pile, or closet. You stumble upon it again and pop it in for a listen down memory lane… with your brain still hearing the next song after the last one ends, the lyrics shooting back to you, and all the memories from that distant time in your life flashing through your brain. You can see the bedspread you sat on listening… see the posters on your wall… and hear your mom calling your for dinner…
Your first album calls back a day when records, tapes, and CDs meant something more. They weren’t just plastic rectangles in paper boxes… they were little keys to your thoughts, doors to your heart, and friends when you were lonely. Lyrics colored in your own feelings, choruses sent you flying away, twisted jams twisted your head around, and every part of it made you today….