Agony Shorthand

Thursday, December 18, 2003
BRETT MILANO : “VINYL JUNKIES – ADVENTURES IN RECORD COLLECTING” book….Couldn’t resist a book purporting to explore the deep neuroses and off-putting rituals of the record collector, even though I’m one of the many accumulators who loudly insists that he – and it’s almost always a he – “is not a real record collector”. My defense is that I’m nearly as happy with a burned CD containing MP3 files of songs I want and need as I am with the original vinyl. So does that give me a pass, even if there seems to be a never-ending stack of new things to listen to and file? My wife argues that no, it does not. Anyway, Brett Milano, the book’s author, was known to me only via some ribbing he endured in mid-80s issues of Forced Exposure, rendering him decidedly uncool at the time (I seem to recall a “Worst of ‘85” poll result for “Worst t-shirt” being one that read “I Am Brett Milano”). I decided to give his book a try, and I’m glad I did. It’s a real simple and quick read, with fairly breezy prose profiling the different aspects of collectordom: Traveling great distances to find vinyl; love of your first record shop; brain chemical-based explanations for collector behavior; the hunt for every collector’s holy grail record; “extreme collecting”; and what record collecting can do to relationships with females, assuming one is ever consummated in the first place. Some of the characters who make appearances are well-known for their collecting pathologies: Jeff Connolly/Monoman (who my wife and I viewed in his native habitat, a Boston record store, two summers ago, loudly expounding on multiple music-related topics to anyone within earshot), Thurston Moore, Robert Crumb, Steve Turner and Nick Saloman/Bevis Frond. I’ll quote from some of the better pages I dog-eared whilst reading:

“(There’s an) egalitarian aspect of collecting, in that rich and poor collectors devote the same space to their collections – namely, whatever space they’ve got. In either case, you’ve made a decision to accumulate. And somewhere along the way, you’ve lost the possibility of keeping track of it all. Thus it’s always a collecting rite of passage when you first buy something twice by accident”

During a passage on Steve Turner’s collecting habits: “’70s and ‘80s punk singles are Turner’s specialty, and he wound up perfecting one shopping tactic: ‘I know how record store people work – if they don’t know what something is, they’ll just ignore it. So let’s say I’m poking around an attic of a store, and I find something great. I’ll stick those at the bottom of the pile and stick something crappy on top – say, a single by Generation X [Billy Idol’s first band, not quite revered by punk scholars]. They’ll see my pile, say, ‘The one on top is ten dollars, but the rest are a buck.’ So I’ll put the Generation X one back and take the rest.’”

Interview with filmmaker Alan Zweig, who directed a good but ultimately quite sad documentary about record collectors called "Vinyl": “The problem is, you have to make a decision in your life to have room for a girlfriend. Collectors have already made a decision not to do that, because the only room they have in their lives is for records. It’s not that women don’t like it, it’s that you’re not really in the game. You wake up in the morning, and you’re thinking about records. Some of the people I know have records lying around everywhere, and if you’re with a woman, you’re asking a lot for them to get past that. A lot of collectors have found a way to create their own world, they’ve found a way to make themselves, in quotes, happy. In that way they don’t need anybody else.”

Peter Prescott: “Now that I’ve owned up to being a collector, I’ll say that what really gets me off is knowing that I have this personal library of everything that appeals to me, and that I can pull any of it out whenever I want to. That’s the wonderful thing, customizing the soundtrack of your life. It goes against the fact that so many things are considered disposable now. Music has always been the center of my life, and to some extent it keeps you from just walking outside and fitting into the crowd. What better way to avoid that than to surround yourself with the music you relate to the most? That really is a way of adjusting the world to you.”

I devoured Milano’s book with time to spare on a 4-hour flight to Chicago this week, and it was even interesting enough for me to want to transcribe the above paragraphs for you, hand cramps be damned. As the saying goes, read the whole thing.