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Lost Songs

Loss as gain.

Computers have their own reality and within that reality my external hard drive, which is still as heavy and shiny as it was a week ago, no longer exists. This was the drive with all of my music on it--something like two straight monthsworth of songs if played back to back, and it is gone, dead. My computer's relationship to that drive, once consummated over a translucent USB cable, has soured. Now the devices turn their backs, arms folded, refusing to acknowledge each other, and I am 10,000 songs poorer for it.

I've known for some time that I should back up my music onto DVD discs or somesuch, but I did not. And my reaction to this loss has been, to my surprise, more of an amiable "ah well" rather than lamentation and hair-rending. I tried to fix the drive for an hour and then gave up. It's gone.

The problem with owning that quantity of music is that I no longer really knew what I had. I was lost in my own song collection. The computer had cataloged it and I could find songs in a moment, by searching. I saturated my hours with music, making sure that songs were playing before I went to work in the morning and moment I returned home. But all of that music had started to feel like a burden. I couldn't give it the attention it deserved.

I've done that with books, too, in the past, and in the interest of gaining more space I've taken them, by the hundreds, to the curb, to join the Brooklyn street-library; they are always gone in a few hours. But with digital music and huge hard drives there's no lack of room for more, for a near-infinity of music, and no reason to ever throw anything away.

I will rebuild. I've got 500 CDs in stacks in the apartment ready to be ripped again. But this time I think I'll be a little more careful about what I put onto the computer. Yes, ABBA is kind of cool in a kitschy way, but I don't really need to listen to them anymore, not even on random shuffle. The same is true of that first The Streets album, although the second album is great. I might focus a little more on classical and jazz this time and leave the pop pleasures out of reach. Otherwise I might find myself once more listening to Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," or Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird" on repeat while, say, Anthony Coleman or Nina Simone sit untouched and forgotten.

I live a spoiled life when it is a relief to lose things. And there isn't really any loss; all of those songs are still out there and available. Nothing unique has been lost. It makes me wonder what other stuff I can lose? Really, the only things that matter are a few text files and emails, a few books that are precious to me, and of course Desdemona the cat. Everything else can be replaced. It's odd that losing all of that music could feel like a net gain.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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