Things

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Ten years ago this past weekend was the first Vinyl Record Day observance at this blog. VRD was created by some foundation (one guy on the Internet, I suspect) to celebrate the vinyl medium on August 12, the date in 1877 on which Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. In 2007, I coordinated the efforts of several like-minded music bloggers around the world to mark the day. In 2008, I did something similar. It wasn’t long, however, before Vinyl Record Day was superseded by Record Store Day, and although the VRD website still exists, it hasn’t been updated in many years.

This post started out to be about my relationship to vinyl today, and I guess it ended up that way. But it ended up being about something bigger, too, as you’ll see on the flip.

As I have mentioned several times, I no longer have a turntable hooked up at my house. To many amongst the readership, that is unthinkable. I know all the arguments. Vinyl often sounds better than CDs, and much better than MP3s. There is a tactile pleasure in taking a record out of the jacket and the paper sleeve. I remember how it feels to wait out those couple seconds of anticipation after the needle is down, as the record spins before the music begins. I remember my delight in finding extras inside the album package, like a poster or a lyric booklet, and how fascinating liner notes and credits can be. I remember that vinyl has a particular smell, and I even remember that for separating the seeds from the stems, few things work better than a gatefold album jacket.

On a shelf in my office I have a collectible version of Heart’s album Magazine. I have a Dr. Hook album autographed by two members of the group after I did a radio interview with them. I have my original 1975 edition of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, one of the most elaborate and impressive album packages ever created. I have a limited, numbered edition of Dr. Demento’s Greatest Novelty Hits of All Time. All very cool to have, all stuff I treasured for a long time.

All unplayed for years. And now, all stuff I could part with tomorrow.

Today, I am not any less interested in music than I ever was. I’m not any less interested in reading than I ever was, but I don’t buy books anymore. I am more interested in beer today than at any time in my life, but I don’t buy pint glasses like I used to. Anything I buy that isn’t consumable is just one more goddamned thing we have to find a place to put, and we are out of places.

But the reason is more than practical.

One thing I have learned with age is that happiness, at least for me, no longer involves the possession of physical objects. If I have my laptop and the external drive with the music on it, a few of my clothes, my Billboard reference books, and my car, the rest of it—the photo albums, the memorabilia from high school, the shit that I’m saving for no reason I can remember anymore—can go to the thrift store, the landfill, or to hell. What good does it do to keep things if they’re boxed up tight in the basement, the garage, or a storage cubicle six miles from my house? If I don’t feel the need to look at, listen to, or hold them in my hands regularly, shouldn’t the memory of having enjoyed them be enough, just as the memories of lost friends and family, vacations, barroom nights, and other experiences are enough?

In my future, whether it’s another 30 years, 30 days, or 30 minutes, the things that will make me happy will not be things.

Why are you keeping the things you are keeping?

7 responses

  1. Hi JB. For me, this particular post couldn’t have been more timely, having just finished filing away the approximately 50 CDs and LPs that I picked up yesterday at various yard sales, thrift shops and record stores. Per usual, I discovered that about 10% of the items were, in fact, duplicates. The vastness of my archive is such that my memory is not sufficient enough to prevent these doubly unnecessary purchases.

    The photo that accompanies this blog post looks remarkably like the room from which I am composing this reply. Almost every inch of my house is filled with records, CDs, books, posters in tubes and various other music, film and TV-related artifacts. I have been curating this collection for nearly 50 years. Did I mention the nearly 500 ashtrays from long-gone legendary nightspots of L.A., New York and Vegas?

    While I have yet to be featured on an episode of “Hoarders” –my shit has resale value!– I fear that my things have come to define me, at least in my own perception, if not others. That latter part of my statement may be true, in part, due to the fact that I rarely entertain others in my home anymore. I’ve turned a three-story, five bedroom house into a residence with only about 200 sq. feet of viable living space.

    I’ve long since suspected that my possessions have gotten the best of me. Yet I still revel in finding heretofore unseen LPs (the Rockin’ Rebels on Swan and a Linda Scott greatest hits album just yesterday) or a fifty-dollar out-of-print CD for a buck at the Goodwill store. And like you, I haven’t even had a turntable hooked up for over a decade. My 1958 Wurlitzer jukebox hasn’t spun a record in years. Is it a Wurlitzer? It’s been obscured by books so long I can’t be certain anymore.

    As I am as old as that jukebox, I have been giving recent thought to an exit strategy for this extraordinary but stifling collection. I truly have invested so much time, effort and money into curating it that, ideally, it would remain intact– perhaps donated to a university or foundation. My daughter doesn’t want to inherit it and, frankly, I wouldn’t want to leave it to her. The reality is that I will probably have to sell it as a means of self-provision in my encroaching “golden years.” Sadly, despite the recent resurgence in the collectability of vinyl, records –and especially CDs– will not yield the kind of return on investment that my childhood comic book collection did in recent years.

    Despite the perverse pride I feel in having accumulated such a library of the past century’s pop culture and history, as you suggested, the joy therein doesn’t compare with what I feel in shared time with family, friends and the occasional fascinating stranger. I am a more complete, fulfilled version of myself when engaged in new experiences versus new acquisitions. And unlike many fellow collectors, thankfully, I have a full complement of social skills. But I’ve gotta start working on a plan.

    Wholesale liquidation would result in pennies-on-the-dollar. I couldn’t truck that, nor the proprietary glee of the dealer issuing such a pittance. So, perhaps at some point in my future I may be found behind the counter of a cozy book-and-record store on the Main Street of a great little college town. My initial inventory on opening day would become legendary, my penchant for acquisition could remain satisfied and I would likely befriend many of my cool, interesting customers in the process.

    But for now, I will climb the staircase stacked with books, clear a path amongst the 30,000 CDs in the master bedroom and retire to read a 1965 issue of Billboard magazine. Baby steps.

  2. For me, the photo albums are among the last things to go (you probably could have guessed that about me).
    Family history stuff, they don’t make any more of. And, maybe it will help cue the memories when they don’t come as readily as they used to.

    But the (relatively small) collections of baseball cards, old newspapers and sports media guides could go, as could many of the LPs (more of them are skippy now than I’d like to admit) and whatever guitars the kids don’t claim.

    I am mainly keeping the things I am keeping because of the perceived time and hassle involved in finding someone who would give me something for them. If there is someone out there who would get off on owning a 1987 Winnipeg Jets media guide, I’d rather get it into their hands than toss it into a landfill. And a couple of bucks for my trouble would be nice.
    If I got used to eBay (people still use eBay, right?) that would probably help a lot.

  3. I am slowly lightening my load but I have a long, long, LONG way to go.

    Should we expect to see you and the missus on an episode of Tiny House Hunters soon?
    Is that your endgame, your exit strategy?

  4. You are bumming me out, he said, looking around the office at his records.

  5. I could not agree more. Things that I thought I would never part with (My vast collection of American Top 40 sets, my nearly 30 years collection of Billboard magazines) are now nothing but clutter. I think it’s because (in the case of the records and magazines) it’s so easy to read/listen to things online, that I don’t feel the need to physically hang on to something.

  6. I’m right there with JB. In fact, I’ve made the leap.

    I had a substantial life change the past four years (divorce/remarriage/relocation). I couldn’t imagine life without certain stuff before. Now, happy with where I am and who I’m with…my grandfather’s 100-year-old Bible and pictures of my now-grown kids are really the only non-negotiables. Okay, and my copy of “The Hits Just Keep on Comin'” autographed by Ben Fong Torres, Dr. Don Rose and Dave Sholin. Apart from some clothes, that’s pretty much all I brought along when I moved. I recognized the other stuff I thought I had to have as dispensable.

    The record library is long-gone, the aircheck collection is digitized and routed through a streaming service as local files. I’d hate to lose my iPhone, but a week in Yellowstone with my wife this summer proved I can do without it.

  7. Pretty sure anything I have that is worth anything is par of my retirement fund.

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