On collecting records.
Some people get it. If I run into Mary Rehak at the Austin Record Convention, we can just nod at each other quickly and say hello before we rifle through dirty boxes in some North Austin convention center on an otherwise pleasant weekend. We’ll glance at the bags tucked under one another’s arms, maybe show off something special that we found, and then get back to work.
But most people, when you tell them you collect records in 2013, they treat it like it’s at best some twee affectation. Maybe they understand part of it — that you like to have a souvenir to take home that represents this thing that means something to you. Or maybe they give you credit that you don’t deserve — they assume that you’re into rare, out-of-print shit that nobody ever bothered to put on Spotify or iTunes, and that you know something because you scour those boxes and bins. Maybe they think it’s your ears, that you buy those records because the sound quality is so much richer than an mp3 on the plastic earbuds that came with your phone.
My ears are not very good, and I buy records that came out last week. I do like the physical object of a record, but that isn’t why I spend my time cultivating this collection.
There’ll be a new Nick Cave record out in a couple of weeks. I’ll get a copy of it immediately. And then I will listen to it, on and off, over the next ten years, maybe, or longer. Maybe forever. Just like I’ve listened to Heaven Is Whenever, and The Legend of Mr. Rager, and Hell On Heels, over the past few years.
Those are records I’d have forgotten if they lived on my hard drive, or in the Cloud. I’ve been reading this new book by Douglas Rushkoff called Present Shock, which is about the way that our culture is set up to constantly chase an eternal present-tense. Some parts of it ring more true than others, but one thing I’ve found is that, when music is just a series of digital files that live in nebulous programs on my computer, it is very easy to obsess only about what’s out now.
But that isn’t the experience of music that I value. I don’t love the thrill of finding something new to listen to just one time, or for just a week, before using it all up and moving on to the next thing. Maybe you do. Cool. But I like it when my records become my friends, and I don’t know how to do that with digital music. I don’t know how to think of music as a permanent thing in the same way when it constantly flows through my computer.
So I collect records. When they live on my shelf, I will play them. I will revisit Heaven Is Whenever, which is not a record that I think is perfect or feel an intense connection to, and it’ll be an old friend. I’ll know the words to it. When that new Nick Cave record comes out, it’ll be something I live with for years to come. There’ll be late nights like this one when I will have the stereo turned down low so I don’t wake up Kat, and I’ll put it on. I’ll have to get up to flip it over, which will make listening to it a conscious act, and even if it’s my seventh-favorite Nick Cave album, I’ll know it intimately. I’ll have memorized every word, even the silly ones about Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana, long after they’ve faded from relevance.
That’s magic, you know?
This might sound a bit grand and silly, I know, when you’re talking about something as trivial as the format you choose when listening to music. But if you are a certain kind of awkward introvert, then the music you listen to is a big part of how you relate to the world, and I am that kind of awkward introvert.
So when I look at that shelf full of records, and I think about putting the new Nick Cave album on it — or the Jose James album that should be here any day now, or that copy of Exile In Guyville I finally got around to ordering — I’m thrilled. There’s a permanence to music that lives somewhere in your home, that needs to be placed on a spindle deliberately, that makes it anything but disposable. (When music is an important part of how you relate to the world, you desperately want to avoid feeling like it is disposable. Shit. If it is, what does that say about you?) These things will be a part of my life for years to come. I can’t wait.