Burning Photographs

I’m sitting on the kitchen floor, closets and cupboards thrown wide, sorting through old notebooks, folders, postcards, CDs, tapes, and photographs.

“Whatcha’ doin’?” Abbi calls and asks.

“Deleting ex girlfriends,” I reply (only half in jest).

I am thinning some two-thousand photos spanning the better part of a decade — My Twenties — down to a more manageable one-hundred or so. The catch phrase of this move has been “ruthless,” as in, Everything Must Go. And so, when I come across a batch from a 1994 trip to Mt. Rainier, I pause, grin, and toss all but one on the discard pile.

Which is fine with me. There’s a certain weight lifted shedding one’s possessions. There’s a certain freedom in starting fresh. And on this warm spring day, I am feeling both.

It’s remarkable just how many forms of recordable media I’ve accrued in the past ten years. There are LPs, CDs, ADATs, DATs, MiniDiscs, cassettes, Hi-8, Digi8, Mini-DV, and Beta SP tapes, Zip and floppy disks.

I find raw footage from the “Jackie Chan” music video, our bike ride across Iowa, and nearly every rock show I played between 1996 and 1999. (‘Too bad,’ I think to myself, ‘those were some pretty rough shows.’)

I find raw audio tape from the making of nearly every record I’ve released (and some that I haven’t) in the last ten years, plus MiniDisks of demos, songs I don’t even know I wrote — plus cassettes of radio shows and coffeehouse performances long since forgotten.

There are notebooks — dozens of them — full of journaling (“Here alone,” I wrote on March 24, 1997, “I realize how much I count on external stimulus”), and folders full of clippings (both by me and about me).

There was a time, once, when I thought someone, somewhere, someday (The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame? MOMA? The Hard Rock Cafe?) might want the napkin on which I first scribbled the lyrics to “Out of Time” (from “Love & Other Indoor Games”), the the yellow legal pad on which I first sketched the cover art for “Out of Your Head,” the journal entry from the day I recorded “Seven Songs,” or the postcard from the “Crash Site” CD release.

There will be no museum, no monument, no anthology. Instead, my children will have unprecedented access to my youthful ramblings, sketches, hopes and dreams. Maybe they won’t really care. Maybe this era of blogging, vlogging, Twittering and YouTubing will render everyone’s personal mysteries moot.

In Margaret Atwood’s “Cat’s Eye,” the narrator describes remembering like looking for coins at the bottom of a well. Through the mirk and haze and darkeness and refraction, it’s difficult to be sure there are any there at all.

I’ve often wondered if memory is overrated, or if mine’s just worse than most. Sometimes I’m not sure something really happened at all, even if there’s evidence to confirm it. As a moment slips further and further into the past, it becomes more like a fuzzy, shapeless color. As hard as I try to grasp for it, I can never touch it again.

Maybe that’s why I save all of these these things. Maybe that’s why I make records, and hang photographs. Because I know that these moment will never come again, and each one, in it’s own small, significant way, means something great and special. Taken together, stepping back and squinting, each point forms a bigger picture.

Taken together, they make a life.