Do I Own My Collection or Does it Own Me?
By some measures, my music collection is modest; by others, my stacks are small. To the uninitiated, though, I probably look like some kind of lunatic hoarder, my shelves packed with thousands of records, CDs, cassettes and 8-tracks. Yes, even 8-tracks. Sometimes I’m not sure whether my collection is a dream or a nightmare.
The beast began innocently enough during my preschool years with a few hand-me-downs from my aunt: Elvis, the Beatles, Steppenwolf, garage legends the Standells. In first grade I made my first purchase: a 7" copy of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Between the title and the rainbow on the MCA label I was sure it had something to do with The Wizard of Oz.
I was hooked.
From that day through junior high school my allowance went to the good people at my local Record Bar. When I entered high school I probably owned 50 records, and then I landed my first record store gig. Not only did we get a sweet discount, but promotional copies or “promos” were a perk of the job. By the time I graduated high school my 50-strong collection had grown to around 1,000 records.
Most of my collection remained sealed in boxes in my parents’ basement, waiting for me to find my adult footing and settle down.
More record store jobs kept me afloat into my early 20s, the promos and discounted purchases swelling my stacks. Most of my collection remained sealed in boxes in my parents’ basement, waiting for me to find my adult footing and settle down.
Eventually I did, and I paid more to ship the 15 cases of vinyl across the country than they were worth, but that wasn’t the point. These were my records, each with its own story: the Queen album acquired in a trade for a Ted Nugent record; the copy of Alice Cooper Goes to Hell that earned my mother’s disapproval; the Black Flag Loose Nut that I traded in a cruddy Bon Jovi album for.
I kept buying and patterns began to emerge -- genres I really liked vs. the ones I thought I should like, musicians and labels that I gravitated toward, and so on. The discographies of my favorite artists filled in with exception to the hard-to-find rarities. The internet came along and solved that problem, provided I was willing to lay out top dollar for a Beatles “butcher” cover or a Public Image Metal Box.
My collection grew until it took over a room in my house. Down the length of one wall are six-foot-high CD racks. The opposite wall holds shelves packed with vinyl. The tapes live a Harry Potter existence in a cupboard beneath the stairs.
Occasionally I pull out a tape for a photo op, like my cassette promo of Mother Love Bone’s Shine or the tattered remains of the Tears for Fears The Hurting tape that got me through my “I feel things” adolescence.
I’d like to move the whole show to my upstairs office, but I can’t due to the weight. That many records weigh 28,347 pounds, according to figures that I just made up. The heavy shelves would eventually take a short cut back to their home on the concrete slab of my ground floor.
The blinds and heavy curtains remain closed in my music library so that the cardboard album sleeves and plastic jewel boxes aren’t damaged by the ultraviolet light. I’d like to shut the vents and not waste money heating and cooling the room, but temperature swings aren’t good for records. Each album is shrouded in a plastic sleeve, the singles stored in purpose-built boxes.
My house has become 'The Stacks of Amontillado.'
When I have the time, I digitize my out-of-print vinyl, but there’s so much of it at this point that the task feels Sisyphean. And yet, every Saturday I make the rounds of my local record stores and add more bricks to the wall of music that slowly entombs me. My house has become The Stacks of Amontillado.
Sometimes I imagine moving; after all, it’s bound to happen eventually. Even the thought of it throws me into panic sweats – the effort required to box the whole shebang up, the cost of movers, the expensive therapy required to stop saying “shebang.”
There’s another alternative, of course: selling the whole sheba ... selling my collection, but that comes with its own set of problems. My stacks are invaluable to me, but I’d be lucky to get 10 cents on the dollar from a dealer. I could sell them individually online for more, but that would be a full-time job for who knows how long.
The bigger issue is that individually my records are meaningless. They’re just objects, useless clutter. Nobody cares that my copy of Night of the Living Dead Boys was purchased at an Asheville record store while visiting my friend Chris, who a few short years later succumbed to AIDS. In a bin that album is worth 15-20 bucks, but in my stacks it is priceless.
And so I’m trapped like a character in an old Twilight Zone episode, the mad scientist enslaved by my own creation. I am curator and caretaker, my entire life parceled into thousands of neatly organized musical chunks. Anyone who cares to know me can thumb through my collection. It’s all there, from those first records inherited from my aunt to whatever I bought last Saturday: a lifetime of musical obsession made manifest in a nondescript suburban tract home.
Maybe I am a hoarder, after all. Maybe the weight of things acts as an unnecessary anchor holding me down. Perhaps I should liquidate my collection and give the money to a total stranger in the form of a monthly streaming subscription.
Or maybe we should sit down, you and I, with an album pulled from my stacks. I’ll throw it on the turntable, and while we listen I can tell you about the girl who gave it to me before she broke my heart, or regale you with tales of Mickey from Record Bar who ground the nub of his missing index finger into my palm when he shook my hand after ringing me up, or any of the thousands of stories hiding in this room and in the cupboard beneath the stairs.
These aren’t records. This isn’t clutter, nor is it a burden. This is my life, spinning at 33 and a third revolutions per minute.