Filing CDs

I’m in awe of people who can put their record collections in alphabetical order. I mean everything in alphabetical order, one enormous trek from A to Z, with everybody on board, no matter what the style of music. Doug Sahm ends up next to Erik Satie, Moby Grape next to Thelonious Monk and The Carter Family next to Captain Beefheart. And where does he go under B or under C or even under V? That’s an issue with adopted names, especially when the last name isn’t a real one. Where does Swamp Dogg go? Or Prince Buster or Lonesome Sundown? But those are all solvable problems – it’s your collection, you can make your own library laws.

An all-inclusive category collection is an amazing sight. I know the arguments for storing a collection in such a manner, the primary one being the desire to not impose boundaries on the wide world of music. And there’s the additional benefit of going looking for a Slim Gaillard album and happening upon the Argentinian composer Ginastera. But many people don’t want to stumble through their collection, preferring to carefully navigate a course, always knowing what is where. However, no matter how well organized any system is, there’ll always arise occasions when items can’t be found. It’s a sad fact of life: that looking for misplaced items constitutes a measureable percentage of our lifetimes.

My record collection is divided into categories. Many years ago this was fairly simple: rock and jazz. Since then my tastes have wandered into musics that straddle lines or in some other ways are harder to define. So the categories emerge based not only on those commonly existing, but also more personally sculpted groupings reflecting my own listening habits. These new categories will always present their own new set of problems. For example, my desire to listen to soundtracks is markedly different than my desire to listen to pop songs. Where then does Randy Newman’s music from the film Avalon belong: with the soundtracks or with the other Randy Newmans? I need to remind myself that it’s my own library and I simply need to find what I want to hear.

I know that for the rest of my life I’ll be wrestling with issues such as this: a compilation with only two tracks on it I like; the rest of it doesn’t interest me, but those two tracks make it a keeper. However, each of those two tracks is by a different artist, both of whom I’m quite interested in. Which of the two artists do I keep it with? It’s at that point that it’s time to turn the music off and go for a walk.

– David Greenberger

(aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, 11 June 1997)