Two weeks ago my hard drive died and everything on it was lost. Let's just say that my annual Blue Screen Of Death was a bit overdue and that I should have been better prepared for this (read: in possession of a backup hard drive). My most important, irreplaceable work-related files were backed up elsewhere, but about 9 GB of mp3's were irretrievably lost.
I wasn't particularly bothered by this (I was thankful for my complete care warranty though), mainly because -- to my numbed surprise -- I could barely remember what music had been on there. I knew I had over 1 GB of albums from 2006, but I couldn't immediately recall which ones I had beyond my four or five favourites, and felt very little need to recover most of them. Storage space is so cheap that I usually don't bother deleting anything unless I actively dislike it. Once the new Flaming Lips album was on my hard drive it was a non-decision to keep it there, but now that's it's gone, I'm not in the slightest rush to get it back because I didn't particularly care for it to begin with. There were several dozen unclassified tracks floating about, but damned if I can remember more than 10-15 of them (note to self: reacquire "Ms New Booty").
Can anyone possibly justify keeping over 1 GB of live Animal Collective mp3's on their hard drive (on top of the 600 or so MB already burned elsewhere)? How many live versions of "The Purple Bottle" does one person need? (OK, scratch that, you can never have too many versions of "The Purple Bottle")
So now, my computer runs like new thanks to the Windows reinstallation. In parallel with my mp3 replacement strategy, I'm in no hurry to reinstall every last thing because my computer's memory and hard drive were bogged down with a bunch of programs that I probably don't need at this very moment. I bought a backup HD (but not a DVD burner to back THAT up ... a mathematical induction problem awaits me), discovered that many of those Furtwaengler and William Basinski tracks were a lot easier to find again than expected, and replaced the essentials (Bardo Fucking Pond) with some new blood (Lisa Germano ... oh man, more on this another time). In all, I trimmed the digital fat and my computer is likely better off because of it -- I would almost recommend that everyone should have their HD wiped out at least once in their lives!
But it all made me wonder what other inessentials I'm saving. If half of my current CD collection suddenly evaporated, would I be that upset about it (besides the hammer to the head feeling of calculating how much I paid for all those discs)? I could go for years without hearing large parts of my collection simply because there's so much to wade through. What would I really miss? The strange thing is, I think I would miss a great deal of it, in part because I think a music collection is no different from a book or painting collection. It's as strong as its whole, and each CD fills a small but unique niche. People don't read every book on their shelves every year, or even every ten years, but it's nice to know that certain books are there when you need them. Sometimes you don't need them and it's enough for you to know that they're a playing their part in this tiny bit of your life's overall work. And the best part of all -- reappreciating and reevaluating music after neglecting it for years is a fantastic feeling.