As a self-confessed record buying addict, Eduardo Alonso decides to take a break from purchasing music. With his first article for OQM, Eduardo's symptoms will be recognized by most serious collectors.
I did not plan it. It was a spontaneous decision. I started off 2017 with the firm determination of not buying any new music for a long while. And I didn’t. For only six weeks. During this time I didn’t step into a record store, get my hands dirty crate-digging, smelling dust and old cardboard. I didn’t spend my Sundays, browsing through Discogs or any other online store in search of some gems.
This resolution of not buying records might sound absolutely trivial. First world problems, if you will. But for someone who has been compulsively buying and collecting music for the last two decades, breaking this deep-rooted habit with a music free cold turkey was no different than checking into rehab. For the first time, I asked myself: what if I already own enough music? Could my collector phase be over?
How did I reach this point? Like any other junkie I suffered an overdose. In 2016 I bought more records than in any other year of my life and between original pressings and some rare items, my wallet took a hit. I lost track of how many records I bought last year, but I estimate my musical bounty was somewhere between 300 and 350 records. Put it this way, that’s nearly one new record every day. For serious collectors, that might be a reasonable amount, even a small amount, but for the majority of people, specially born after 1996, that’s more records that they will own in their entire lives.
The first record I bought in 2016 was David Bowie’s Blackstar. My last purchase was a massive, overpriced 11-record box set, featuring seven Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers albums originally issued between 1994 and 2014. Petty is one of my favorite artists ever and I know every note on those albums. This music is encoded in my DNA. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve played those nineties albums since I first heard the single ‘Free Girl Now’ on the radio – nearly twenty years ago. I know the music, I have the CDs, why would I spend big bucks on a vinyl set? Completism, nostalgia, obsession.Three ways to define a collector. Buyer’s remorse? Not at all. Thanks to this box-set, I’m finally able to drop the needle and listen to two albums very close to my heart; Wildflowers and Echo. Previously, these LPs were only available in their original pressings, usually priced at over 300€ on the second hand market. Compared to that, the box set seemed affordable and an opportunity to finally own two albums which are a great part of the soundtrack of my life. Click, click, credit card, click. Done. The glorious, bright red box-set sits nicely on my shelf.
Petty is one of my favorite artists ever and I know every note on those albums. This music is encoded in my DNA
One sunny summer’s day, I took the train all the way to Tikkurila, a far stretch for a Helsinki city boy like me. There I’d agreed to meet someone who would sell me a couple of records. We met at the entrance of a coffee shop in the railway station. I must admit the whole transaction looked a bit shady, drug dealing of some kind. We hardly spoke a word. I gave him a tenner and I got two Willie Nelson records, which made the whole business a little bit more peculiar. The man was in his late fifties, wearing a band t-shirt covering his belly. That type of guy you’re likely to see anytime you enter a record store or visit a record fair. His name might be Pekka. Moments after we completed the deal, it struck me I had just met my future self.
That type of guy you’re likely to see anytime you enter a record store or visit a record fair. His name might be Pekka. Moments after we completed the deal, it struck me I had just met my future self.
In the autumn, I cruised to Stockholm with the intention of spending the whole day hopping from one record store to the next one. Stockholm is a fantastic place to buy music. If you ignore the hipster atmosphere and gentrification, the beautiful streets of Södermalm host three or four records stores, carrying top-quality stock at fair prices. Scandinavian prices, mind you. There’s the legendary Pet Sounds for new releases and not far from them, Record Mania has become a favorite of mine. In a space of less than ten square meters, this shop packs a fabulous selection of rarities and original pressings in top condition, especially jazz, funk and soul. Anxiously waiting for their weekly updates on the online store, I often took breaks from work on Fridays to check new arrivals. You never know when a much-wanted record will pop up. One of those shops where you might find a 500€ 45 by Rhythm Machine. That’s if you’re lucky to buy it before someone else grabs it.
I’m sure you get the picture. I bought everything and anything in 2016. I bought new music and old music. Box sets, singles and albums, CDs and vinyl records. I bought from the store, online and at the merchandise tables at concerts. I bought a 36-cd Bob Dylan box set and a 59-track tribute to the Grateful Dead in ten glowing splatter vinyl records. When my parents visited me in the summer, I told them to bring me an album I couldn’t find in the stores here in Helsinki. Oh, bless them! I even bought one LP simply because I wanted to compare the reissue with the the original pressing. That was The Replacements’ Don’t Tell A Soul, and yes, the original is better. Or so, I want to believe. By the end of the year, I was buying an album I already own just to have the original inner sleeve with pictures and lyrics. So yes, my record shopping habits we’re getting a bit out of hand in 2016.
Why do I collect records?
Collecting is a funny business. Humans are unique in the way that we collect items purely for the satisfaction of seeking and owning them. I can’t really say why I collect records or how exactly I started collecting records. As far as I can remember I always liked to collect things. First it was football trading cards, then records.
Music is more than a hobby. It’s a way of tracking my personal history. Songs and records are associated to memories, to moments in time. I’m pretty certain I can remember when and where I bought every vinyl album or CD in my collection.
Music is more than a hobby. It’s a way of tracking my personal history. Songs and records are associated to memories, to moments in time.
Being surrounded by records, by the physical objects is important. I live in a small one-bedroom apartment, and therefore, there’s not much space to spare. Records though, take priority. Like any proper vinyl nerd does, I get so much joy just browsing through the records, looking at the artwork. They make my house a home. I live in a museum of my own, curated by me, evolving as I grow old. The physical objects act as an anchor to the memories. You see the records, you smell them, you feel them. The records are a constant in my life, always on hand and never a disappointment. I can always count on the feelings and memories they bring. I know I can play the first Cheap Trick album if I feel blue. A therapist might give a reasonable interpretation of all this. Well, I’m not seeing a therapist. People of the future, you may not understand this. But you can’t stack your memories on a search bar.
Is there a life without buying music?
Anxiety, insomnia, sweaty nights, vomiting, fever. No, I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms during the time I didn’t buy any new music. I always knew this was a temporary break. I would be back in the game in no time. But it made me wonder. Is it worth spending a big percentage of my hard earned money on records? After all, I can listen to as much music as I want for just 9,99€ a month. Could I change my habits? Just listen to my old records or stream music.
Yes, I could… except that I won’t. I don’t reject streaming. I’m not anti-streaming. In fact, I listen to plenty of streaming music when I work out, go for a run or I want to check out a new band. It’s wonderful to be able to listen to whatever I want whenever I want. The problem is, streaming, in my opinion, transform music into a commodity. When I stream music, I can’t fully concentrate on the music – It’s hard to listen to a whole album because I know I can change to something else right away. It’s too easy to skip a song. Plus, there’s no context. The artwork is almost invisible and you can’t read the credits. People of the future, how will you find out about legendary house bands like The Swampers in Alabama or Motown’s Funk Brothers? It’s appalling.
People of the future, you may not understand this. But you can’t stack your memories on a search bar.
Collecting records requires energy and investment. The hunt is as enjoyable as the music. You must do your research and open up a whole new experience. If you have enough, you load the Discogs website and buy almost any record you want, any pressing in NM condition. You can pay 2000 euros for an original test pressing of Big Star’s Third. But that’s a travesty.
Searching and seeking for the physical object creates commitment to the music. This is the only explanation why vinyl, a far from perfect format for music, stuck around and came back from near extinction. It connects you to music on a deeper level.
I must admit that slowing down my music buying habits had some benefits. Without spending much time researching music, I needed a different obsession. The most phrenetic obstinate activity I could think of doing was to give another shot at reading David Foster Wallace’s mammoth Infinite Jest. Whether it’s caused by breaking my collecting habit or not, I’ve read more of this novel than ever before. I might succeed and finish it this time.
Lacking new records, I dived deep into my collection to rediscover some music, forgotten records that I might not have listened to much. For a couple of weeks Elliott Smith was on heavy rotation. I always thought his music was a bit flat and monotonous, and never found the masterpieces many people claim. This time it hit me and I fell in love with Figure 8 and XO.
Halfway through February of this year, I’m back buying records. On another trip to Stockholm, I couldn’t help myself and I bought Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance, original US pressing from 1974 (found at Record Mania). For some reason, I hadn’t listened to this album yet. Dismissed as lame and commercial, its bad reputation always made me forget it. Back home, it felt great to hold the album, admire every detail of the artwork which exhibits a cartoon-like image of sleazy Lou, with blond hair, shades and leather jacket. On the back cover, we see the close up of a black woman with druggy eyes and cigarette in mouth. That might be Sally who lives on St. Mark’s Place, in a rent-controlled apartment, eighty dollars a month and she has lots of fun. I place the record on the turntable, drop the needle and crank it up. I have butterflies in my stomach every time I spin a record for the first time. That image of Lou Reed will sit on my desk for some time until I decide to store it on the shelf among the other albums – in alphabetical order of course. A new piece has been added to the museum.
That might be Sally who lives on St. Mark’s Place, in a rent-controlled apartment, eighty dollars a month and she has lots of fun.
I’ll continue to buy records regularly. I accept my sickness. I don’t think this phase will ever pass. I still have many records to chase. I’m dreaming of the original Australian versions of the first AC/DC albums. Or a mint copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico without the banana being peeled. There’s one item, however, I’ll never see. There’s a company that press your ashes to vinyl. Not sure if I’m ready to sign off, but that would be the ultimate collector’s item. It pisses me off I won’t own it.