By January of 2000, the Missus and I were a young couple, but not in a way that either of us really wanted to admit. Sure, we had smooched a few times and exchanged around ten letters a day at school, but this was all prefaced by the notion that we were merely enjoying each other’s company and nothing more.
By no means (none!) were we boyfriend/girlfriend; neither of us wanted to be in a committed relationship at that particular point in time. Celia had just broken up with someone, and I had been single for about a year and quite enjoyed the freedoms that accompanied the status (as many bacheloresque freedoms as a 17-year old could logically have, mind you). We treated our relationship as one would treat a gentle new friendship, and took careful steps to preserve its fragility and not scare the other away.
As you can tell, this was a damp load of horseshit and we both knew it. Whether we ‘wanted’ to be in a committed relationship at the time was completely out of our hands. This was the woman I was going to marry, after all; we only continued to spout nonsense like ‘let’s just see where this goes’ because we were both justifiably terrified of the avalanche of emotions we were feeling for each other. We fell in love hard, but we held back as a courtesy during the feeling out process to test the ice a bit, before we inevitably clasped hands and fell straight through. We didn’t have a prayer.
I’m sure she still has the letter I wrote to her when I came clean. It was manic. Probably one unbroken sentence with reckless disregard for punctuation as I feverishly told her how I didn’t want to be just friends with her and I could no longer pretend that we were just acquaintances that made out all the time and I wanted to spend every waking moment with her and I’m sorry if this scares you away but I needed to tell you because these feelings were killing me and I’m hopelessly desperately and wholeheartedly in love with you forever and ever until the end of time and I want everybody to know.
She concurred. So far, it’s worked out quite well. We got cats and stuff.
One of the initial things that brought us together was our mutual love of music. After all, this courtship all started when I begged Celia and her friends to come see my band play MxPx covers in someone’s backyard. My friends all listened to the same music that I did, but I always felt that I listened to it differently. More passionately. My motives seemed distinctively purer. I understand how egotistical and judgmental these thoughts were, but it appeared from the onset that Celia functioned on a similar wavelength as well. I have no doubt that she felt the same divide between her close friends when it came to the way she consumed music and how it legitimately shaped her life. We were always elitists that way. Still are.
And even though I’m holding 90’s punk rock in an almost supernatural regard, you have to remember the context. I was 17, Celia was 16. This was indeed the driving, defining force of our existence. All of my income went to music and concerts and new drum heads and cargo pants. All of her time was spent in her room dissecting lyrics, scribbling in notebooks and forgetting to feed her goldfish (I began to assume it was immortal after awhile). At that specific point in time, there was no better way to learn about who we were as people than to learn about the music we liked the time.
And that’s exactly what we did.
In a move that I still feel was equal parts clever, romantic, risky, potentially voyeuristic and possibly unprecedented for its time, I proposed a full, 100% swap of our CD collections for one full month. For as much time as we were spending together, we still couldn’t spend every waking moment together, and the Great CD Swap would fill those quiet moments while turning us on to new music (and each other). What better way (besides sex, I suppose) to pull back the curtain and reveal yourself entirely to the person you love?
I cannot remember where this idea came to be, but like most good ideas at that time, I believe it happened in my car. We would take turns playing CDs for each other (I had a blue Discman with a cassette adapter for the first couple years), sometimes appreciating, but usually arguing merits in a way that we both mutually enjoyed. During those early years, I wasn’t interested in Twee and dense, female melodies (Go Sailor, Tiger Trap, The Pooh Sticks, etc.). She had a specific hate for songs about ‘leaving town’ (Less Than Jake, Less Than Jake, Less Than Jake, etc.). I thought the Swap would curb some of these musically xenophobic thoughts where we could find more common ground.
I recall thinking this was a good idea right up until the night I drove all 400 of my CDs to her house. It wasn’t the OCD (“She’s gonna break ‘em. She’s gonna break all of ‘em.”). It wasn’t that I’d miss them (“How will I live without Monkey Kong?”). It was the sudden realization of just how personal a CD collection can be, and how this could potentially affect our relationship in a negative way.
Until this point, she was unaware of my penchant for early 90’s gangsta rap, which was littered with misogyny, violence and homophobia. Would she think this was how I defined myself? Or how about all the George Carlin and Bill Hicks albums, comedians she simply thought were vulgar and substanceless? After several long nights sifting through my past and present, would she start to piece together a synthetic version of me that didn’t quite match up with how I was presenting myself? Could it be that my CD collection subconsciously spoke more about me than my words could ever accomplish? Even though it was too late to back out, I started to seriously believe that this may horribly backfire.
But hey, Celia had skeletons of her own. For her rigid, punk rock exterior, her collection (of about 200) was loaded with a surprising amount of boy bands and female pop vocalists. For every Mr. T Experience or Zoinks! album, there was a 98 Degrees or O-Town there to throw me off. Furthermore, I knew that she made no secret about her Christianity (at the time), but I couldn’t believe just how many Christian punk and ska bands existed on Earth. I swear she owned every Christian 3rd Wave Ska album ever recorded, because after all, how many of them could there have been? (Answer: A shitload.)
Any apprehension I was feeling melted as soon as I got Celia’s CDs back to my house, and for this next part of the story, you have to remember something extremely important: It was the year 2000. In the pre-Napster/iPod/streaming music days, you rarely came upon 200 brand spanking new albums to listen to. It was an embarrassment of riches. If you wanted to trade music with someone at the turn of the Century, you still had to trade physical property, and if you had friends like mine, you learned not to do that pretty goddamn quick. For a music lover, it was a buffet of new and interesting sounds that were more or less already on my taste wavelength.
Also, the fact that these were exclusively Celia’s made it all the more special; it was like digging directly into her brain. When I listened to each album, I thought about what her mindset was when she decided to purchase it. “Oh, I’m sure she bought this one the day it came out. I bet she bought this one at a concert for the sole purpose of getting to talk to the cute lead singer. She probably bought this album because it was listed in the Thank You section of this other album.” Again, this was 2000; the best way to find music was to look at the influences and labelmates of bands you already liked by checking liner notes, a process I miss way more than I thought I would.
I also paid attention to the shape that some of these CDs were in, which was a more CSI-level approach to understanding her tastes. For example, Love Is Dead was scratched to pieces and skipped uncontrollably on a few songs. And her copy of the Angus Soundtrack (easily the greatest film soundtrack ever in both of our opinions) was literally unlistenable by the time it got to me. This pleased me; everything on my end was working out perfectly. I was learning about awesome bands and my new girlfriend at the same time, and more or less reveling in the genius idea that was the Great CD Swap.
Over at Celia’s house, there was a bit more filler for her to sift through. I had this idea that in order for me to be a better DJ at parties (something I ended up never actually doing), I needed to consistently buy more Pop and Top 40 records- records I didn’t even necessarily like. I was probably the only person who actually played by the rules with Columbia House and BMG, scoring such 90’s classics as Cracked Rear View and Jagged Little Pill. I also liked to buy albums on a complete whim under the most bizarre criteria. For example, I once picked up an Acceptance record because I thought they looked like nice guys.
Tell me they don’t, though!
But hey, this was inadvertently a better snapshot of my personality than I could have created purposely. I’m like that; sometimes I’m superficial and can’t explain my actions, and do things out of spite and pity and because there is absolutely no way I’m leaving Camelot Music without a CD and I don’t care what it is. If Celia was going to accept me weirdness and all, she might as well know about my love for Polysics and Softball right off the bat (I really miss Softball).
Celia’s foraging tactics were a bit different than mine. Instead of looking at my CD collection as an extension of myself, she looked at it as a way to find more common ground (ie: she played by the rules). For example, in early 2000, I was listening to Saves The Day so much that anyone within a mile of me probably hated them only because of their constant rotation in my car. Celia tolerated my obsession, but their style wasn’t exactly in her wheelhouse. However, once she discovered their acoustic EP I’m Sorry I’m Leaving, in particular their cover of Modern English’s ‘I Melt With You,’ her thoughts changed.
Another band she plucked out of sheer curiosity was Republica. I bought the album after seeing the ‘Ready To Go‘ video on M2 during a sick day from school (watch the video and you’ll get it), along with a list of other albums scribbled down following an afternoon discovering new, Alternative music. Again, this was literally the best way to find new stuff at the time; the Internet was slim picking and MTV still mattered a tiny bit. Why Celia decided to listen to Republica above any other band is anyone’s guess, but she must have found it endearing, because it was the first thing she quizzed me about once we traded everything back and started discussing our findings.
It wasn’t long afterward that a noticeable change began to take place when Celia and I would drive around and listen to music. Every now and again, she would ask to listen to one of my albums, or I would request she bring along a few of my favorites. Our tastes began to meld in a way I could have only hoped for, and it’s a good thing, too. No less than two years later, our CD collections became permanently intertwined when we moved in together, and that’s how they have stayed. The Great CD Swap Of 2000 was a rousing success, and so was our decision to jump head-first into an emotional relationship.
Even now, 13 years later, remnants of the Swap still exist. We’ll sometimes find ourselves singing along to an album during an evening drive, when Celia will look at me and inevitably ask: “Is this one yours or mine? I can’t remember anymore.“
Neither. It’s ours.