There are several ways to figure out who a person really is, but to me, the best and most reliable way is though that person’s music collection. Could be records, CDs, cassettes, even 8-tracks. I don’t wanna see their book shelves because some people buy the classics or high-minded tomes but never cracked the covers. It’s all pretentious bullshit. But a person rarely buys music and doesn’t listen to it. Doesn’t matter what the format is. They own the music and when the mood strikes for a particular song, artist or genre, just the right selection isn’t far away.
I especially love collections that aren’t all one genre or center on a few select artists. The more eclectic the better with oddball selections mixed in with the more popular choices. That tells me you’re a person who’s open to suggestion and are courageous enough to take a chance on music beyond the mainstream. All the same stuff? Ok..your choice but that tells me you’re neither creative nor an especially adept conversationalist.
So when reading a story in the The Detroit News today about the imminent death of the CD, and music on physical media in general, in favor of streaming, I’m fairly sickened. What am I gonna do, go into someone’s home, ask them to open their Spotify app and show me what they’ve been listening to? That sounds incredibly stupid, if not invasive. I wanna be able to discuss one’s collection. There are often great stories about how a person came to own a particular album, regardless of the medium. I can tell you I was 13 when the Beatle’s Magical Mystery Tour was released. Too young to drive, so I rode my black Columbia two-wheeler, no gears, miles and miles from store to store until I found a copy. Then the bag with the album banged against my leg as I held it in my left hand while trying to hang onto the handlebars to steer the bike.
A guy in college was getting rid of all his record albums after (stupidly) converting them over to cassettes. I traded him an album by Mountain for the Stone’s “Let it Bleed.” I believe I did well for myself, but years later I was haunted by “Mississippi Queen” and re-bought the Mountain LP at an antique mall. Yeah..I could have streamed the song, but the deep cuts were just as satisfying and I wanted that album jacket on my shelf.
One of high school buddies was a nut for the guitar group, The Ventures. He had every album. I have of few from them as well, but Manny Hershkowitz was thoroughly hypnotized by them…especially by one of their biggest hits. In fact, it got a little obnoxious when, if you tried to rush Manny, he’d invoke the title every time, saying, “walk…don’t run.” Oy. What did that tell about Manny’s personality? Well…it predicted his future…as a school crossing guard.
Then there was Al Schmertz. He only collected comedy albums. Especially live performances. He had ‘em all. Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield. Couldn’t carry a tune. Ever. But he was awesome at saying, “thanks. you’ve been great.” We’d sit in his room listening to the laugh masters while eating his mother’s awesome homemade french fries. When it was time to leave, Al sent us off with an enthusiastic, “thanks..you’ve been great!”
I’ve never been the biggest music collector. I have a few hundred LPs as well as CDs. I digitized what few cassettes I had because it’s difficult to find a player and I trashed the few 8-tracks I owned because the quality was such garbage. If you came to visit me, you might be both impressed and appalled. From my college freshman year until five years after graduating, I was employed as a DJ at various radio stations in Central New York State and Arizona. You kinda get sucked in by what you’re playing and I succumbed to the zeitgeist and purchased several Barry Manilow albums and even Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits. They both still skulk on my shelf, but perhaps the shame of it will catch up to me one day. Barry will be banished to the Goodwill sack and Helen will be pitched into a pond early one Delta Dawn. I do own some strange stuff like the album by the “Masked Marauders,” a total hoax created by Rolling Stone magazine pitching it as a “supergroup” comprised of John Lennon, Paul McCartney Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. Singing on the ersatz gem were some friends of the writers from Berkeley’s Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, whoever they are. But I have the record, and chances are you don’t.
I cherish my set of Laura Nyro LPs, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis and “Abandoned Luncheonette” by Hall and Oates. I own albums by comedy troupe Firesign Theater, a double LP of early live performances by Woody Allen before he became creepy. How about a live double LP from a rock festival in the early 70‘s in Puerto Rico called Mar y Sol, featuring, among others, Long John Baldry the Allman Brothers and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and the album Carole King cut before “Tapestry,” called “Writer.”
I do own some 45’s including Fabian’s “Hound Dog Man” bought by my brother and a bunch of other singles that were sent to me by various record companies when I was a radio station program director, including this total oddball from actor George Segal called “What You Gonna Do When the Rent Comes “Round.” It was free. A target of opportunity. It’s not really half bad. Let’s not forget a bizarre Steve Martin platter called “What I Believe..A Patriotic Statement). I can only imagine. A needle hasn’t ridden its grooves since before the Bee Gees turned disco. Perhaps this means I was either very open minded… or tone deaf.
I know things change, and that’s fine. But I still comb used record…yes..record stores for vinyl or CDs that catch my interest and as long as I can find a rare live performance or long-forgotten collection, I’ll continue to add them to my collection. Because my collection is physical evidence, aside from some unfortunate stains, of what I’m all about. Plus, you’re not getting near my phone.
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