Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Disc-Combobulation:
How Christgau Stores His CDs

Compact discs aren't as compact as they're cracked up to be, especially if you measure your storage in wall-feet: you can only get 60 or so jewel boxes on the same square foot of sheet-rock that will accommodate more than 80 vinyl LPs in their tattered cardboard jackets. But CDs are shallow little buggers, more or less uniform in size, light enough to store on hanging shelves without tearing a hole in your neighbor's apartment, and at five-and-a-half inches deep they consume only two-thirds the room volume of vinyl. This means you can stick them almost anywhere. Since they're also expensive little buggers (these days, with manufacturing equipment amortized, they cost producers no more than cassettes or vinyl), casual music lovers often own only a few dozen of them, in which case, as the editor of Ladies Home Journal remarked on the Pathmark public-address system recently, a shoebox makes an excellent CD holder.

I am not a casual music lover, and my study was crammed with oft-weeded LPs, most of them stored in (and sometimes warped by) simple, cheap, used metal industrial shelving, painted blue, when I decided to switch formats in January, 1990. Each seven-foot, six-shelf unit holds about a thousand LPs; I have three plus some box shelves in the study, two more out in the hall, four or five more in a warehouse. Since the '70s I've stored cassettes on tiny shelves supported by stove bolts fastened to the sides of the LP units, but as my permanent collection grew, I devised a more permanent solution. Cassettes are really shallow little buggers, only two inches wide, and remain easily accessible at the cost of no appreciable room volume as long as you stand them up like books. Individual dividers for each cassette cost money, waste space, and force you to shift whole rows one by one every time you insert a new tape alphabetically, which is the only way. My design: drawerlike, 2"-deep, 30"-by-40" boxes with half-inch shelving 4" apart. Made to order at an unpainted furniture place, they cost about 30 cents per cassette stored, an improvement over vastly inferior competing systems. Mass-produced they'd be even cheaper. (Sure they would.)

The same principle applies to CDs--store them upright, undivided. Anything else is suburbia or conspicuous consumption (which reaches a weird apogee in the overpriced wavy CD tower at Jensen & Lewis). Good old bracket shelves work because levels are exactly six inches apart, which makes it simple to avoid the screws that interfere with your brackets every foot; I've attached three sets to the sides of the file cabinets in my study. Unfortunately, most retail options employ dividers, probably because some marketer thinks separate compartments make the expensive little buggers seem more special. The only exception at Tower is the Allsop CD organizer ($19.99), foot-wide black plastic modules that can be hung or stacked after you snap them together. I like the plastic tension bars that hold up the CDs, but don't trust the Allsop's general sturdiness or stacking stability enough to pile all four modules atop my LP shelves. At 20 cents per CD, it's the cheapest CD storage I've found--cheaper even than the excessively utilitarian (I mean ugly, and I have low standards) hanging bolt-and-scrapwood item findable at Ikea. But my personal favorite--perhaps because the last remaining wall in my apartment was 16 inches wide, which just fit two side by side (with room for two more on top)--is the Trendlines media column ($39.95 in black, white, or "natural" at Hold Everything, 104 Seventh Avenue). It's a lot solider than than the Allsop, will accommodate the occasional odd-sized package, and its seven shelves hold 126 CDs at 32 cents per. A similarly configured and priced item at Ikea was available only in lilac when I drove out, and for some no doubt metric reason is an inch or two deeper than the Trendlines, which at precisely six inches doesn't get in the way much.

Of course, real collectors toss the cases, save the booklets (and discs), place both in nonabrasive plastic envelopes, and file in drawers or boxes. But I'm resisting. Jewel boxes still seem too special to me.

Village Voice, Feb. 21, 1995