The paths that are our individual lives are untravelled despite the experiences of others. This is because it is our journey and while others can provide a map, you always feel like John Cabot or Christopher Columbus—the map ain't quite right, but it will do. So it is with my record collection. The songs are expressions of emotion from the artists’ make you feel like you’re comrades in songs. But in the end this complete stranger’s need to write was entirely different than yours. It’s just skewed perception and heightened emotion that makes me believe that Johnette Napolitano, Neko Case, and I all went out with the same guy. My life was turned upside down and inside out over the past five years, little of it resembling what previously existed. This convoluted twist led me straight to my poor neglected record collection. I think it must be the best lover I've ever had and far more loyal. It's always there, always forgiving, and never forgets. Plus you never have to clean up after it.
The film High Fidelity starring John Cusack hit very close to home to the point that when I moved into my new apartment I did a double take on my record collection. Since everything else had changed, why not this? Should I forego the traditional alphabetical and year released strategy of organization which had stood me in good stead for so many years? Or should I shuffle the wax in order of life experience? Almost every record has a story. There’s Jack Elliot’s Muleskinner Blues that I discovered at the library sale for a quarter. There are the unmentionables that my friend thought I ought to own. There’s Joy Division that I bought used since I thought it important to own, played it once, and got so depressed I couldn’t play it again. There’s the Gun Club that I bought for four bucks from a buddy who routinely sold off portions of his record collection only to buy it again. Then, like most musicphiles, there are the albums we’re way too embarrassed to admit to owning, wonder why the hell we bought them, but cannot bring ourselves to sell since they’d probably work well on a mixed tape.
As for life and long players, well, I’ve discovered serious overlap in songs. Case in point: Concrete Blonde’s debut self-titled album. I got this CD as one of the first upon the purchase of my player. Then it became practically the only record I played when my then-boyfriend traveled across the country on an excursion to find himself. He later called me when he found himself covered in second degrees burns and needed to get home! Later, when we split, I played it only to cry my eyes out. Now, I play it to learn the chords.
Then there’s the Replacements’ Let It Be with the gorgeously poignant song “Answering Machine”. That predictably, was the first song I put on my first answering machine that my mum bought for me at the Canadian Tire in downtown Ottawa. Funny, that answering machine died a few months after my relationship did. The record, on the other hand, lingers on.
So what’s my point. Perhaps this is an open letter apology to my long ignored record collection. For too many years its growth has been neglected and when additions were made, they were done in fits and starts. I, like many fans, have an emotional connection to my musical recordings. These aren’t things I give up to easily, but I am eager to share and read about. I take pride in being able to the spot influences and nods to other artists. This artistic expression, this effort of blood, sweat and beers, has spanned time space and neuroses by a mere fraction of a diamond hitting a groove on a flat piece of vinyl. The tortured feelings emanating from a laser hitting a burned surface has driven me to the waiting embrace of Jack Daniels and the comfort of a Kleenex box. It has fired me up and calmed me down.
Now how is this different from anyone else? Apart from being verbose, I find few soulmates among women in this regard. Record collecting appears often the domain of men. Female friends who used to work in record shops found most record buyers albums were male. This has usually been true through the history of rock and roll. Women usually buy singles. This trend doesn’t appear to have changed much at least from my observations of record shops. I am the only XX-chromosomed human intensely perusing the record bins at thrift stores and CD racks at Sam the Record Man. My gender-mates can sometimes be found at the indie shops, but men usually dominate there too.
This must say something about me. My collection certainly does as it does for so many others. One’s personality can’t help but be reflected by it. This is why I designate a certain amount of time to nosing my way through people’s record collections at parties. If nothing else, it’s an icebreaker. Some take it as an insult that my flipping is a comment on the liveliness of the gathering. Others take it as an inspection of their “street cred”. Still others are able to pump their chests at the finding of a rare Maximum Rock and Roll compilation only to be outed by a well worn Olivia Newton John release. I don’t criticize such finds too much – living in glass houses and all.
In fact, such diversity in taste is a good thing. If the art is indeed a reflection of your life, crazy mixed up collections simply make you that much more dynamic and interesting. There may be a few ruts, but I prefer to think of them as grooves. A friend of mine declared recently that her goal in life, before marriage and babies, is owning every song she liked. A worthy goal, I think.
Special treats for me aren’t manicures or clothes or lipsticks. Rather, they are imported CDs from an artist I can’t afford to buy at any other time. Given the current rising price of CDs, however, these treats are becoming few and far between. On the other hand, I like to think of my continued purchases of CDs as cigarettes, except I’ll live long enough to listen to them when I’m old. What a life!