At this point, having CDs is like Christianity: so passé it’s embarrassing.
Nevertheless, I’ve hung onto a bunch of my CDs. For that matter, I still practice Christianity.
Though I stream music like everybody else nowadays, I appreciate a CD’s tidy square packaging, the little booklet of song lyrics that’s often included, and the finite listening experience (hardly ever longer than an hour).
Plus, CDs have been with me for decades now, which means that inertia and sentiment have set in. And those are the two most powerful forces known to man. Or at least known to this man.
The first CD player I ever had—a gift from my parents for, I think, my 12th birthday—also played cassette tapes and the radio. So maybe I have always preferred to consume music in more than one format.
I was not attached to cassettes, though. They were liable to unspool if you played them too much. And you couldn’t easily skip ahead to the good parts. And the foldout lyrics were tiny and hard to refold.
Nor do I care about vinyl—though I am old enough to remember the tail end of its predominance. In fact, the house where my family lived in the mid-1980s had a wood-paneled living room with a built-in record player behind one of the wood panels.
At Christmastime, my parents would use this contraption to play Bing Crosby’s holiday album. Our record collection—I always think of it as my mother’s because it reflects her tastes—also included Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Lily Tomlin doing Edith Ann, and the soundtrack to the 1976 A Star Is Born, depicting on the cover a topless Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in a passionate embrace.
That record was probably my first encounter with Streisand, but she didn’t register as a potential object of idolatry until I saw Funny Girl on television when I was in junior high. I guess you could say a star was born—if by “a star” you mean “my homosexuality” and by “born” you mean “confirmed.”
From early viewings of Funny Girl, I recall being puzzled by how everybody in the movie keeps saying Barbra’s character, Fanny, is hideous, even though she’s played by Barbra, who was self-evidently glorious and, I assumed, every man’s idea of a perfect woman.
I also remember receiving from “Don’t Rain on My Parade” that head-spinning mix of elation and awe that watching musicals often gives me—the same feeling that others derive from lesser experiences such as witnessing the births of their children.
Back to Broadway came out in the summer of 1993, when I was 13. Barbra’s second helping of show tunes followed 1985’s The Broadway Album, which I had never heard.
The sequel contains 12 tracks, including my favorites at the time: “Everybody Says Don’t,” “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” “With One Look,” and “The Music of the Night,” a duet with Michael Crawford, the original Phantom of the Opera in London and on Broadway—and Barbra’s costar in the film version of Hello, Dolly!
Musical theater fans will note that’s three Andrew Lloyd Webber songs to just one Stephen Sondheim composition, but like I say, I was only 13 and didn’t know better. The Andrew Lloyd Webber numbers feature lush orchestrations, the subject matter concerns seduction and washed-up movie stars, and Barbra’s voice is like a disembodied swoon. How was I supposed to resist?
Back then, I liked to listen to music in my room while seated on the floor and playing solitaire with my Great Authors of the 19th Century playing cards (Louisa May Alcott was the queen, and I beg to differ).
One summer afternoon I was thus engaged while Back to Broadway was playing. Joan, the woman who cleaned our house, came in to do some dusting or something. I didn’t clear out, as I had been trained to do, possibly because I wanted to finish my solitaire game.
As she worked, Joan began humming along in a fluting head voice. I want to say the song was “Speak Low” but it might have been “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”
At one point, Joan stopped her trilling to exclaim, “Oh, Zachary, your taste is exquisite!”
And you want me to dispose of that CD and listen to Spotify instead?
Sorry, but I don’t intend to find out what it’s like to feel as if we never said goodbye. I don’t intend to say goodbye in the first place.