I, too, once felt the mad desire to own every jazz record ever made, and to have them all shelved in chronological order at arm's length from my desk. Today I own just two racks, and whenever I acquire a new album, I get rid of an old one in order to make room for it. Not only has this imperative made me ruthlessly selective, but it has forced me to reconsider my priorities. Time was when I bought records in order to say that I had them. Now I keep them only because I love them.
No doubt the day is almost here when it will be possible for people like me to download the Complete Performances of Everybody to our computers...except that I'm no longer that kind of person. I love Art Tatum, but I don't want to own every record he ever made. I want to own the ones that matter to me, and let the others go. I want to be able to pull a CD or book from my shelves at random and know that it will please me, just as I hang on my walls only paintings and prints that move me deeply.
Why have I come to feel this way? Because I'm fifty-four. Life, I now know, is short, too short to waste, and the actuarial tables leave no possible doubt that most of mine has passed me by. As a professional critic, it's my job--my destiny, you might say--to spend a fair amount of time experiencing art that I don't like. Insofar as possible, though, I don't propose to waste any more of the days that remain to me consuming bad art than is absolutely necessary. Unless I'm being paid to do so, I won't even finish reading a book I don't like, or listening to a record that fails to engage me. I have better things to do, and not nearly enough time in which to do them.
And I'm in the process of unloading about 4,500 CDs, some of which I've simply given to friends or family who are interested in the music. It's not totally altruistic. In my case, I've backed up the music I'm interested in keeping on a 2 TB hard drive, and then I've backed that up on another 2 TB hard drive. I ought to be good to go forever. But forever, as always, is an illusion. You can't back up a life. It's been good to have that at the forefront of my mind.