“You must own so many records,” a new friend of mine remarked the other day as we were having a discussion about whether she should buy a turntable. (Shouldn’t everyone?) It was a logical assumption on her part, for even though we’ve only known each other a relatively short time, she’s already learned what those near and dear to me have known forever: Music is my thing. My passion. The flame was lit when I fell head over heels for rock ‘n’ roll at the tender age of 13 and in the decades since I’ve remained a voracious consumer of recorded music in all its forms. I feel like I’ve bought enough LPs, singles, cassettes, CDs, and yes, 8-tracks in my time to fill the Hollywood Bowl twice over. So you’d think by now, at the gruff-and-grizzled age of [REDACTED], I’d have a collection worthy of that Guinness book of other records. Yet it pains me to admit that the quantity of albums currently on display in our guest room/media den, where the hubby and I keep the stereo and other man-cave essentials, is a tiny fraction of what it should be, given all that I’ve spent on physical music over the years. What the devil happened? Aye, ‘tis an epic saga of voyages to new lands, fickle fortunes, and reckless raids on the treasure followed inevitably by crashing waves of regret. So sit back, wee buccaneers, whiles I tells me tale of woe. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly channeling Geoffrey Rush from The Pirates of the Caribbean, but there ye go.)
If I’m honest, I’ve always had an easy come, easy go attitude toward the music that I’ve purchased. As a young American teen hopped up on pop tunes, I used to trade singles with friends when I got tired of them – the singles, not the friends – never once stopping to think that I might want to hang on to that original pressing of “Philadelphia Freedom” or whatever was the must-have hit of the day. I can recall as a senior in high school selling a stack of classic rock albums after discovering punk and new wave. So it was goodbye to Styx, Bob Seger, and Chicago; hello to the Clash, Elvis Costello, and the B-52’s. In my 20s I worked in a succession of record stores and with employee discounts and freebies from the record companies, my collection began to bulk up. But when money got tight, as it often did on a meager retail wage, I’d swap albums for cash from my local used vinyl vendor. It was either that or get a higher-paying office job, but then I’d lose access to those discounts and freebies – a classic catch-22. Or maybe a catch-33⅓.
Several significant address changes throughout my life also took their toll, as I shed albums while packing for each move in an effort to keep my belongings portable. (Full record crates are heavy, y’all!) I sold some when I moved from Atlanta to Boston on a whim in the late ‘80s, then others, including many that I’d bought while in Beantown, when I slunk back south not quite two years later, utterly defeated by the New England winters. I got rid of almost all of my vinyl at a yard sale before I decamped to Canada in 2004 to live with my future husband – the only person on the planet who could entice me to return to a frigid climate. In hindsight, I regret this purge the most, especially letting go of an autographed copy of the soundtrack to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, signed by every member of the Ramones, for just $10 US. Gabba Gabba Huh? But this was when vinyl had fallen out of fashion and many of us had switched to CDs. I didn’t even own a working turntable at the time. Naturally, vinyl came back into vogue a few years later and my love of the medium, with its more expansive artwork and warmer sound quality, returned as strong as ever. So I began to rebuild my vinyl stash from scratch, a long, ongoing process given the massive inflation in LP prices. My original copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall cost me $8 US in 1980; the reissue that I picked up in 2012 set me back a whopping $50 CA. But dude, it was the Floyd, so, like, totally worth it.
Still with me? Told you it was an epic saga. Next we enter the era of streaming and it’s the compact disc’s turn on the wheel of obsolescence. During the CD’s heyday, the hubby and I amassed a huge collection of around 5000 or so. (He produced a music video show for a Canadian TV network and brought home scores of promos; I just spent a lot of time blowing my wages in HMV.) But after we discovered streaming, we noticed that we were playing our discs less and less. Still, most of them came with us, at considerable cost, when we moved to the southern coast of England in 2016. They sat gathering dust in our rental digs until we bought the flat we’re in now and, due to lack of space, we made the difficult decision to donate the bulk of our CDs to a local record shop. Now we’re down to a few hundred, mostly chill-out compilations and the odd movie soundtrack. If the compact disc becomes trendy again, the way vinyl did, I don’t want to know about it. I’ve re-bought too many albums too many times for too much money!
All of which is perhaps an overly thorough way of explaining why our current music library is so puny. And it’s random too – like, we own just one Dylan album at present and that’s Empire Burlesque, not exactly a highlight of Bobbie D’s career. I felt like I needed to get the explanation on the record – pardon the pun – given that I’ve put myself out there as one of those know-it-all music nerds. The truth is I have several friends around my age who are pop music obsessives like myself and I’ve seen their much larger collections and, well, I have size envy! (You know how us guys can be so insecure about such things.) It bothers me that the, um, girth of my collection doesn’t reflect my enduring devotion to music. I’m not someone who likes to dwell on past mistakes, but I do wish I could renege on some of those rash transactions that have peppered my journey to the here and now. So if you’re reading this and you have that autographed copy of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, can I have it back? Pretty please?
At any rate, I’ve given up my collection robbing ways. As new home owners, the hubby and I can’t afford lavish album-buying sprees, but we add to our library when we can and I’m determined to hang on to every single album we own, even those that aren’t very good. That middling Kings of Leon effort that I bought a few years ago and have played exactly once? Hanging onto it. That virtually unlistenable industrial-goth EP that I purchased by accident because it was misfiled in a record store’s chill-out section? Nope, not going anywhere. That cheesy compilation of love ballads by Liberace that I picked up for £1 at a charity shop just so I could post a pic of the cover ironically on Instagram? Hmm, maybe we could live without that one…
*Reform not guaranteed