I don't often buy CDs anymore. With media I'm generally only interested in the main content, and the hard drive stays the same size no matter how much I load onto it, so digital services are easier. It's rare that I want some part of the packaging enough to store it, and pack it, and move it from house to house when I am eventually forced to be itinerant again.

Placebo released a 20th anniversary retrospective, and I paid to have them mail me one. I like them enough to give them money, and their website asks a very reasonable $11 for a 2-CD set, in a hardcover gatefold. I wanted the pictures. More accurately, I wanted to know which pictures the two of them thought were relevant. Knowing what people want to remember is sometimes more interesting than the events themselves.

There is a brief introduction to the album by Brian Molko in the front of the book. I have seen very little prose from him, but it all has the same curious quality of standing by itself, hanging over the page in the same way narration hangs over film footage. Song lyrics are usually from strange viewpoints like that, but it's more unusual in print. He uses the metaphor of film to describe the course of their lives, in fact. It includes a reference to a significant 'supporting player', which seems to be David Bowie, who features heavily in about the last third of the photo album.

He's still hurting. I don't know why I thought that was so important to notice, or to think about it, or to note here where you can read it. Giving some recognition to the fact that other people feel stuff just seems to be my pointless personal goal in life, like those people who set out to read everything on someone's list of 100 Greatest Novels, or run a marathon in every state. Mine just has no end. People will keep feeling things until the end of time, or at least until the end of the human race.

The observation is not exactly a leap of logic. The intro is datelined "Ibiza, June 2016". It's surfaced in other things. There's a recent interview Placebo did for a Russian audience, in prep for their anniversary tour, where they were asked about Bowie. Molko's response was to tell the audience, vehemently, that it was okay to feel sad. It sounded very heartfelt.

And then I thought, that's an odd thing to say. It wasn't really an answer to the question, but that's not unusual. Molko often wants to answer much more intelligent things than he's actually been asked. But more than that, it was a reply to something I think most people would not think to ask. It's something I argue with myself over a lot, but there's a reason for that: Expressing the idea that I'm not allowed to be upset confuses others. Most people would not second-guess the impulse to mourn. Maybe they think the tumblkids are going kind of overboard with it, but fundamentally, someone who used to be around a lot won't be anymore, and that's sad.

Those are the words of someone who is worried, perhaps not unreasonably, that some of the people his weird artist friend felt he belonged with the most are so alienated they need to be told they have permission to care. That is someone who has spent a lot of time trying desperately to convince himself not to have feelings about things he doesn't belong to, and people who don't belong to him. I don't know if he feels that way anymore, but he remembers.

Long periods of isolation leave some very distinctive scars.

For what it's worth, the album also has a new single on it, which is actually one of the happiest, most optimistic things I've ever heard them do. Just because someone is gone doesn't mean you lose everything you got out of knowing them.