When I was in about sixth or seventh grade, my favorite cousin shipped me a box of burned CDs. Brand New, Blink-182, New Found Glory, MEST, Good Charlotte, and Simple Plan were all represented in my very own 00s Pop-Punk starter kit. When the package arrived, I invited my friend Jacob to come over and listen to them with me. We rushed upstairs to my stereo, and my mom laughed with my friend's dad in the doorway, "They're really into music right now."
A few years later I got an iPod for Christmas—a second-generation iPod Nano. I invited my friend Zac over to help me fill its 2GB of storage with what he had on his new 12” iBook. He got me hooked on bands like Coheed and Cambria and introduced me to stranger projects like The Mars Volta, and all the while we were experimenting with more aggressive metal and deathcore bands like Job For A Cowboy or Between The Buried And Me.
When Zac graduated from high school a few years later, I became the kid that people would come to for new music. I took it very seriously. I filled iPods, curated music at events, and made myriad mix CDs for crushes, for friends, for my sister, even my parents. Spotify playlists are nice, but they've got nothing on handing one special person a physical CD with a hand-written label and track list. I'm just a little too young to have missed out on making mixtapes on casettes, though I did get to experience evenings with my radio and tape recorder, finger poised over the record button, waiting for the next Metallica song to be played.
On a standard evening at my childhood home, my parents would have the local news playing loudly through their television's integrated speakers, and would follow-up watching the evening programming. I liked According to Jim or 8 Simple Rules as much as anyone, but my parents also kept a hi-fi in the room that my mom says she traded a horse for years ago (I'm 90% sure that's a real story), and that's what I usually had my eye on.
My parents gifted me my first mini hi-fi (I still have this, set up in my kitchen!) and later, my iPod Nano. Both of those things changed my life, and at the time, I didn't even realize I wanted them. That said, when my parents would go out for an evening to do some shopping or visit friends, I remember the excitement of being able to come downstairs, turn off the TV, and tug on the handle of the stereo cabinet until the magnet released its grasp and allowed the cabinet to creak open. The CD tray would whir open, and my favorite music would fill the room while I sat alone in my dad's recliner, listening with my full attention. Sometimes I'd switch the input to the turntable and go through some of my dad's records—LPs like The Cars, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, and Def Leopard all come to mind. I remember thinking, when I had a place of my own, this is exactly how it would be.
It's been a lot of years since those nights home alone in my childhood home, but I'm finally putting together the living room I always dreamt I'd have. No screens, no distractions, just music. My setup isn't anything special, but it's mine, and it was put together slowly, intentionally, and opportunistically with a little friendly advice from Reddit and friends who know more than I. I'll be fine-tuning and improving my setup as I go, but for the time being, I'm going to sit in my chair and put on a good record.