Being a newly-obsessed music fan at 16 with no income but a bit of a comfort zone from a blandish middle-class existence fostered an odd asceticism in me. I started forgoing lunch, or secretly packing away a sandwich while accepting two dollars lunch money, to reach that magical $7.99 that would buy me most any on-sale CD over at the Borders, which was the closest thing I had to a music store. I seem to recall buying most of the Talking Heads albums this way.
My downloading slowed to a relative crawl as I found it too tedious, and somehow "cheating," to keep filling up CD spindles and a few outrageously overpriced binders full of uniform white discs. Instead I became a makeshift collector, averaging about two CDs a week -- I would exchange clothes I received for Christmas and use the money to buy an album, would surreptitiously charge the odd CD to my dad's Amazon account every so often (sorry, Dad!), started asking for gift cards or box sets in lieu of anything else for holidays and birthdays.
And I sat in my basement and listened to music. I had a girlfriend at the time with whom I spent most of my time, but late evenings and nights I would just sit and listen, connecting with music while mindlessly going through the motions in various videogames. (I seem to remember "clicking" with Loveless while playing the Nintendo 64 Zelda game.) I found it impossible to drive, even for five minutes, without music playing.
But mostly I read about music while I was listening to it. Read everything I could find, which wasn't much -- scoured the Xgau archives, familiarized myself with the Pitchfork archives and made lists of their lists, which led to odd purchases like Eccsame the Photon Band by Lilys, which I don't remember listening to except that it sounded nothing like the blurb made it out to sound like, or a fucking Walt Mink record. The adolescent prose experiments reminded me of the stuff I'd begun writing, long pretentious novels about people I didn't know very well and "free verse" poetry that I was so embarrassed by I threw it away two years later (wish I hadn't done that now, but it was that embarrassing). At 17, everything that "Pitchfork writing," in the most derogatory use of the word, stood for reminded me an awful lot of myself. But more importantly it had those LISTS, organizing decades for me, providing me a simpler teleological explanation of the recent past than more intuitive canon-building provided.
I read Lester Bangs and was floored by the sheer force of his words -- I glommed on to every offhand reference and tried to figure out who he was talking about, though I wasn't quite ready to figure out what he was talking about (truthfully I never really returned to his writing as writing, merely as a sort of record guide). Again his narrative exercises suggested some connection I could relate to; I think I could tell even at the time that most of them weren't quite working (I couldn't imagine how me might develop them into a novel) but took heart in that.
Thing is, I don't remember any of this stuff in any sort of chronology, because it was an isolated experience. Memories of the music rush together -- I feel sorry for my older brother as I remember in a rush the number of smug assertions of trufax I subjected him to late at night as he returned from work, working out whatever critical pose I was developing but having no one else to talk to about it. "See, Tribe Called Quest really meant something, y'know..." "Turns out Husker Du did everything in one take..." blah blah blah. I had no one else to turn to with it -- most of my friends didn't know or care much.
I had a few friends who were into music; we alternated between Pixies and Weezer in the car. We collaborated on a mock "Behind the Music" documentary -- still pretty funny! -- about a karaoke singer gone singer-songwriter and then gangsta rapper (his sidekick is Skittles). They invited me to play in their band, a decent classic rock band, and I faked my way through a few basic piano parts but always thought that piano made everything sound too cheesy, though I liked playing the organ parts. At some point I saved up for a cheap bass guitar and tried to play along to the Misfits, as I'd read somewhere that it was a good way to learn the bass. But that never really panned out.
So the year goes by, a year probably full of more new music (since I hadn't heard much music at all in the scheme of things) than any other year of my life -- but the trade-off, I suppose, is that the year wasn't very memorable. My senior year of high school and most of what I remember from it are the odd flashes of recognition from first listens to canon albums -- oh hey, yeah, Kind of Blue, Pet Sounds, Radiohead, Velvet Underground, London Calling, the bread and butter of prior knowledge in the music writing that I was reading. I really can't remember how the hell I heard and absorbed so much of it, how many hours I must have spent by myself studying it, but I did, because by 2003 I'd already written my first piece of music criticism.