Monday, April 1, 2013

In the Groove

I started collecting records almost by accident.  My high school art teacher, Miss Flynn, was getting rid of her old albums.  At the time, I was in that delusional adolescent phase in which I thought I could bring the 60s back by having long hair and protesting stuff.  (It didn't work; it hasn't been the 60s since the 60s).  Naturally, I was really into 60s (and some early 70s, which was still kinda like the 60s) music.  And one day, out of the blue, Miss Flynn brought two or three huge bags stuffed with treasures.  The Beatles, The Who, The Doors, and lots of other bands with "The" in their names.  It was awesome, and despite the fact that I didn't own a record player, I took them all.  So while boys with frosted tips were calling me gay for having long hair (yeah), I was doing something cool before it was cool.  This is a super-rare phenomenon, because I usually don't do cool things before they're cool, while they're cool, or even after they're cool.

So it began, a sizable record collection for a long-haired weirdo without a record player, and things would only snowball from there.  Towards the end of high school I came to a realization.  I was sick of buying expensive clothes that everybody else had too.  I remember purchasing a Mr. T shirt only to find that some other dude already had the same one, and then he called me out for copying him, claiming that he was "the original weird kid", which is still one of the dumbest things anybody has ever said to me.  If you're trying to be weird then you're not really that weird, are you?  Anyway, I had grown tired of this sort of nonsense, so I started shopping at thrift stores.  Cheaper clothing that nobody else has already!  Woo!  But of course, thrift stores have much more to offer than just clothes.  No, I'm not talking about the awkward challenge of avoiding smells-like-poop guy, though most thrift stores do offer that challenge.  I'm talking about all kinds of outdated technologies, including records.  So at this point in my life I still had no player, but found myself compulsively buying records.

Finally, after college, I had a moment of clarity and decided that my growing record collection would be even better if I could actually listen to the records.  I bought a player that I still own.  It's one of those kind that looks like a suitcase when it's closed.  My genius notion was correct: record collections are more fun when you can hear them!  I was surprised how great my 33s and 45s sounded.  (I even own some 78s, but it's not often that I feel like listening to Danny Kaye.)  And thus, the snowball of record collecting began rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger.  Since I was the only person in my family with a record player, I started getting hand-me-down LPs from my mom (Nilsson Schmilsson!) and my grandparents (thanks for the Gene Autry, Grandpa!).  A friend at the office gave me his old Monkees albums.  And if anybody wanted to get me a present but didn't know what to get, a record was a surefire gift, unless you got me something like Warrant, in which case I'd start to have serious doubts about continuing our friendship.

I've picked up records at stores that specialize in selling dusty media, yard sales, creepy basement shops, and even eBay, which is like a giant auction but on the world wide web, in case you're unfamiliar with that.  Recently I took out a pretty large stack of vinyl and sold it!  It went against every pack-rat fiber of my pack-rat being, but I not only needed some cash, I just have way too many damn records.  If I pulled the first one off the shelf and put it on, then continued listening to every big black circle I own until I was done, it would probably take months.  And that's not even factoring in pee breaks.  I suppose I could put the record player near the bathroom or pee in mason jars, but both of those seem like hassles.  Maybe I'll start peeing in mason jars, for practice, just in case I decide to listen to all of these without pause at some time.

So what is it that feeds my compulsion?  Obviously I love music.  I was about to type up all the kinds that I like, but it's quicker to type what I don't like: opera and modern country.  Pretty much everything else I'll indulge in, though I do have quality standards.  Yes, I live in an era where people can download as much music as they want (on the world wide web, which I previously mentioned), but there's so much stuff that I have on record that you can't find on the internet.  For instance, did you know that Ray Charles has a bigger body of work than just his greatest hits?  Yeah, he made like seventy albums or something.  There's a lot of great songs on them that I've never seen available on CD (remember those things?) or online.  I suppose obscurity is something that will always pique my interest, as well as anything bizarre.  Smoosh obscure and bizarre together (Obzarre?  Feel free to use that as a band name, because I won't.) and you've got at least a partial understanding of why I love collecting records.  Here's some more detailed samples...

Weirdest LP I've Found:
There's a lot of strange discs in my collection, so it was hard to pick just one.  Honorable mention has to go to an album that's just called "Heino". (I guess it's a self-titled album by an artist named Heino?)  With his cheesy turtleneck, cheesy black glasses, and cheesy bowl cut, I'd swear he was a Saturday Night Live character played by Will Forte.  Even though the record came out thirty or forty years before Forte was on SNL, I'm still not convinced that it isn't him.  But the weirdest LP by far has to be my copy of "The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay".  That's right.  It's a heart-warming story about Muhammad Ali and a gang of children teaming up to battle a dental-themed villain, played by Richie Havens.  Also, they somehow got Frank Sinatra to be on the thing, and hold onto your hats, special guest announcer Howard Cosell!  It's amazing, and by amazing I mean "makes you feel like you're on drugs even if you're not on drugs".  I don't even remember where I got it, so I'll just throw out the hypothesis that it was forged by a team of gods and goddesses out of molten awesome and launched from outer space directly into my consciousness.

Weirdest Thing I've Found in an LP:
Weed.  Yep, it was a musty-smelling album from the 70s.  Supertramp or something.  And I opened it up to find weed crumbs in there...  Wait... I guess that's not weird at all that I found such a substance in such a place.  Okay, new category...

Coolest Thing I've Found in an LP:

Lamest LP That I Accidentally Thought Was Awesome:
When my grandpa passed on to the next plain of existence or whatever and I inherited a stack of records, one of the albums was 1100 Bel Air Place, a Julio Iglesias joint.  I was informed that my grandmother "used to swoon for Julio Iglesias", which is weird because JULIO IGLESIAS ISN'T GRANDPA!!  The cover looked corny as all hell, but I'll give anything a try, so I put it on my player.  I didn't pay much attention to it until a track came on that I thought was superb.  It was just a psychedelic loop that soothed my soul somehow.  I listened to it for about 10 minutes before I began to wonder how long the album was.  At this point I discovered that the disc itself was stuck in a loop.  Oops!  Let me know when you start making music that sounds as cool as your records when they don't work right, Julio.  And stay away from my grandma!

Most Fun LP Cover:
Everybody knows at least a few songs by The Mamas & The Papas, even if you downloaded them from some jackass who labeled them as Beach Boys songs in the days when people used Napster and mislabeled all of their music.  That was before Metallica destroyed Napster in the most metal way ever (a lawsuit).  But this has nothing to do with Beach Boys or Metallica men and everything to do with The Mamas & The Papas album The Papas & The Mamas.  The cover features a fairly plain photo of the four band members (two mamas, two papas) lined up in a row looking straight forward.  The gimmick is that there's a slit horizontally right across the middle of the cover, and underneath that is a similar photo but with the group members in a different order.  So by moving the flaps up and down you can make lots of funny-looking faces while you're listening to the sweet, sweet harmonies.

Are there downsides to collecting records?  Of course, like all things in life, there are cons to counterbalance the pros.  Luckily for me, I've found ways to deal with the cons.  The first one is a botch that I made several times in my early days of buying thrift store LPs, buying an empty sleeve because I didn't bother to check inside to see if the disc was actually in there.  The remedy I've found for that is framing the LP cover if it looks neat, or taping stuff onto the cover to make it into a collage.  Yeah, I'm artsy you guys.

Another drawback is how heavy the damn things are.  Ever pick up a milk crate full of LPs?  Pretty hefty.  What's even more of a pain in the rump is that every time I've moved I didn't have enough crates, so I ended up bring some cratefuls, taking the records out, then taking the crates back to my old residence and refilling them.  Using bags and cardboard boxes is a good way to ruin bags and cardboard boxes and drop your records on the ground.  The benefit of having a heavy collection of heavy objects is that it's like exercise whenever you have to move them.  I made a joke once or twice that whenever I get out of shape I move to a new place so that I can tone my body with my record collection, but usually as I found myself huffing my way up a flight of steps I cursed my past-self for making such a joke.  My future-self may be cursing me right now, for that joke or any number of decisions I've made.

I guess this post was almost an exercise in self-exploration.  What makes me tick?  What makes me collect things that smell like neglect?  I don't know if I was successful in any sort of self-discovery kind of way, but maybe I helped shed some light on why record collecting is fun.  If you love music, if you've got lots of extra storage space, and if you want to get ripped through milk crate training, record collecting is for you!  And if you already collect records, record collecting is for you!

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