Back in October, during my ride to work, NPR ran a brief, uninteresting story on the 30th anniversary of the advent of the Compact Disc. Despite being forgettable, the piece did send me into one of my reveries, this time back to the corner of East First Street and First Avenue, where my friend Jem Aswad lived in a walk-up, split-level apartment. It was small but interesting, with lots of exposed brick and an upstairs loft space with roof access.
Jem has always been my music buddy. The first time we met, he taught me how to play a few songs on the guitar in the lounge space on the third floor of Shaw Hall in Syracuse. He was wearing a Psychedelic Furs t-shirt. Although I knew nothing about the band in 1981, I could tell by looking at the shirt that they were cool, as was the dude wearing it. Jem (who went by "Jim" back then) turned out to have an extensive record collection, and he worked part time in an indie record store called Desert Shore Records. During our 30 year friendship, I've witnessed Jem's complete immersion into the world of music, from LPs, to cassettes (he made some amazing mixed tapes for me and the rest of our crowd back then), to CDs to MP3s. I'm sure he's still got a warehouse full of vinyl records stashed somewhere, and lord knows how many songs are on his iPod at this point.
But yes, CDs entered the mix some time in the 1980s, and I will never forget my introduction to them. One afternoon down there in the East Village, Jem happened to show me a cardboard box he had in the bottom of his closet. The box was filled with CDs, which I'd never seen before. Not in person, anyway. My understanding was that they were significantly more expensive than records, which I still listened to at that time -- in 1986 or '87 -- after Jem moved into 1st and 1st and before I snuck on over to Europe for my expat stint.
"Come on," Jem said, with that familiar twinkle in the eye that suggested impending mischief. He grabbed the box, and I followed him up the iron spiral staircase that led to the loft and out onto the roof. From six stories up, we had a good view of the block. I'm not sure, thinking back on it, what time of the day it was; I'd like to think there weren't too many people around.
Remember now, the CDs in that box were like exotic treasure to me. To Jem, however, they were nothing more than what probably amounted to an unending stream of freebies that awaited him daily at CMJ, where he had an entry-level editor's job at the time. He sent the first disc flying out into space, and I marveled at the way it dipped and dived, shining prismatically before smashing into the sidewalk below. I threw one of my own, Frisbee style, and watched it crash as well.
I'm sure it didn't take long for us to realize that what we were doing -- our little act of Keith Moonesque rebellion -- was idiotic. Rather than wait to get arrested or threatened with violence, we moved our party back inside the apartment. We may have smashed two CDs that day, and for the sake of the story, I'm sure it would be better to contend that we tossed the whole lot off the roof. Regardless of the number, I'll never forget the sense of pure decadence I felt, as I watched what was still a technological novelty at the time, these shining flying saucers, crashing into shards down below.