Since that year when music went digital, which must have been sometime around that month we all bought iPods, my iTunes library has only ever grown. Until a few weeks ago, when I did something I haven’t done since the early-00s; restarted my music collection from scratch. I didn’t bin it all of course, just archived it (40G or so) and cleared the library. I had myself a musical Year Zero. It was surprisingly easy to do, and has meant my usual mundane drama has had a subtly different mood this month, thanks to a fresh new soundtrack, made up of stuff I haven’t heard a million times.
I heartily recommend it.
Amassing data is easy. Filling a harddrive is easy. Just like amassing a garage full of junk is easy. It’s managing and disposing of the stuff that’s the hard bit. Deciding you can live without it, and dragging it to the trash. Which is the only way you’ll ever clear that bloody garage too – by chucking the whole lot. But this casting off of the old is a very healthy process. Our possessions are a part of us, often a long dead part of us, which we wear like the dead ends in our hair. They must be pruned to allow growth.
Reinvention is something teenagers do all the time. Well, the cool ones do anyway. Hippies become Punks, Goths become Grebos, Indie Kids become Emos become Hipsters become Twats. It’s part of growing up, trying a few looks, and stances, and ideologies, running with the ones which suit, denying you ever tried the ones that don’t. The day the kid comes home with the haircut or piercing or boyfriend or whatever it is that succeeds in appalling mom and dad, that’s the day the kid regenerates, closes one chapter and starts a new one. That’s what a kid growing up looks like.
It worries me that reinvention is so much more difficult these days, with social networks preserving every stupid utterance we ever make, every transaction logged by a loyalty scheme, every movement captured on camera. How can a kid reinvent themselves, when the photos of how they looked last week haven’t all been tagged yet. How can they grow into anything other than what everyone else is? And how can our culture grow without such iconoclasts propelling it?
When I was 15, my mom took the scruffy overcoat I had taken to wearing (which I thought made me look like I was in The Bunnymen, she thought made me look like a tramp*) and set fire to it at the bottom of the garden. I’m sure it gave her great satisfaction, but it left me without a coat, in winter. So I had to go out and buy a new one quick. I replaced it with a leather bikers jacket, and army boots to go with it. In the weeks that followed my girlfriend of the time completed the look by piercing my nose with the back of a badge, and for a while I wore the uniform of a Black Country Grebo. I doubt this was my mom’s intention, but she had helped me to evolve that little bit faster.
I wouldn’t be seen dead in any of that clobber now of course, I’ve shed skins many, many times since then. I’m a grown man, so it’s harder to get that reinvention kick, having kids to feed and a mortgage to pay. The best I can do to give my life a fresh coat of paint is reskinning my blog, or deleting my facebook account, or just emptying a recycle bin full of mp3s (which I fear may already have been the most rock and roll thing I do this year). But I’m past the age when I’m ever going to burn down the school, so these kind of things are what keep me feeling good about myself.
The day we stop reinventing ourselves, is the day we stop growing. And start decaying.
[* she was right btw]