As someone who has a tendency to spend a lot of time listening to music, it is not unusual for friends to ask me that age old question: ‘So what albums have you been playing recently?’ My first thought is always as if it really matters. However I always oblige, and after a few moments of hesitation, my response is almost universally the same: ‘Well, a little Miles Davis (that usually impresses them), some Bach, the complete Brandenburg Concertos (watch their eyes light up), along with The Who and a few obscure Hendrix compilations.’
The fact is I haven’t listened to Miles for months, and as for Bach, he’s still gathering dust next to Mozart and Pachelbel. Basically, I’m a fraud. Yes, I have an impressive music collection, thanks to thirty plus years of serious hunter gathering through every grotty, obscure record store Australia once had to offer, not to mention record fairs, and the odd garage sale here and there.
However whenever anyone enquires as to what I’ve lately been listening to, I immediately feel compelled to demonstrate my extreme scholarship, my superior erudition when it comes to music. When I say I like jazz, people often ask ‘what sort of jazz?’ If I say I’m into blues, the response is often similar: ‘So what kind of blues do you like?’ As if there was any other.
Nowadays people always want to know what you’re into. Perhaps it stems from watching too many episodes of Seinfeld and Frasier, where the characters seem hell bent on psychoanalysing eachother to the extent that even if one decides to go fishing, one cannot cast a line without questioning the motives behind it.
So yes, I own a lot of records. Yet how often do I listen to them? Occasionally I ask myself, do I really need that original pressing of LA Woman, or Lord Sutch and His Heavy Friends? Well, the answer is no. However albums, whether CD or vinyl, become like companions. Relationships may come and go, but the one thing you can always depend on is your music collection. Like a loyal dog, it will never leave you, and remain in many ways your best friend, even if you spend most of your time ignoring it.
My house is full of CDs, and vinyl, so much so that the misses has often commented that we should purchase extra shelving in order to properly accommodate all those compact discs that keep accumulating at an ever alarming rate. Naturally I reassure her that having hundreds of CD’s piled-up on the floor, like a stack of plastic skyscrapers, is a perfectly natural habitat for anyone wishing to preserve the Y chromosome for future generations.
Of course she doesn’t believe me, no matter how artful my argument. Because LPs (or CDs, take your pick), have a wonderful, mystical quality to them I cannot easily explain. I always look at them, contemplating all that knowledge and experience just idly sitting there, waiting to be unleashed with the mere push of a button.
I even organise my collection by artist, and the year each album was released. After Tim Buckley is Jeff Buckley. The Allman Brothers seem perfectly happy next to The Black Crowes, while Hendrix has an entire shelf all to his own (as he should). Most people would probably think I’m mad. But there is a method in my madness. Owning thousands of albums means that such a strict librarian approach is necessary, in that it saves me an enormous amount of time when it comes to locating the exact record I want to listen to.
Let me give you an example. One time, I made the mistake of placing Terry Reid next to The Beatles, when I ought to have placed him beside Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page once auditioned Reid as a future lead singer for the New Yardbirds, hence the connection). That’s just how tragic I can be.
However these days, music seems so disposable, particularly in an age when most of our art and information comes in the form of ones and zeros. As a child or teenager, to hold an LP was to hold the whole world in your hands. Each album was like a window into another universe, a universe that was as weird and wonderful as one’s childhood was often dull and boring. Music took you to another place, transporting the mind into a whole new level of imagination.
Some people use vinyl as a way of impressing a shallow mind. But for me it’s more about memories. As much as my wife has been nagging me for years to offload those several hundred LP’s I perhaps no longer need, I always get the feeling that selling my records would be akin to selling my own children. Just like a wine-bibber, I sip at my records at a measurable and modest rate. I know that I should enjoy the full bottle, yet realise that I shall somehow rarely seem to get to it.
Music downloads leave a hollow feeling in the brain, as if what you’re listening to isn’t actually real. One should never underestimate the tactile importance of actually holding an object in their hand and bonding with it. Because let’s face it, a download is about as exciting to a vinyl junkie as water is to a dipso.
A few records are meant to be slowly digested, such as David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, to name but one example, while others are to be enjoyed in a more immediate fashion, such as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. And yet the possession of an album often becomes an alternative to playing it on the turntable. Yes, I confess, I have an unhealthy obsession when it comes to collecting. It comes naturally to me, like staring at the stars or seeing a restored MGB gracing the wind along the highway.
Thus will this vinyl junkie never turn – no New Year’s resolution for me, such as giving up alcohol and cigarettes. My only commitment will be to listen to more vinyl, and in the process make the world a better place (which is complete rubbish of course). My membership to the Folio Society and New Yorker has been cancelled, just to prove how serious I truly am. In other words – too much reading and not enough listening, which is another aspect of my appetite, in that I generally spend more time thinking about music than I do actually hearing it.