on Record Collecting
Shortly after the rather anticlimactic dawn of Y2K, I made a momentous
decision to part with certain rare,
valuable and highly collectible vinyl items (and
assorted paraphernalia) from the "backroom collection." Many
items were sold on eBay in a series of auctions starting in late October,
2002 and I've never looked back or regretted the decision. I've
never been a record collector and have never really cared about that
type activity. Most folks are wrongly convinced otherwise. It had become
a usual thing to get unsolicited phone calls and emails from people
seeking certain heady punk rock vinyl items from "that period."
No, I either never had them, or if I did have them, they're gone now.
I made the damn records and that's all I cared about and, naturally,
I ended up with a lot of test pressings, acetates, first pressings,
etc. That was par for the course but, touché!, it's now too late
to talk about what I had.
at that point in my life (and to this day in 2012) any pleasure I could
have derived from owning such a collection was marginal at best. I didn't
listen to 'em, didn't show 'em off, they were stuck away in boxes that
just gathered dust. Hell, I COULDN'T listen to 'em! Hadn't owned a turntable
since about 1972! The pleasure was in the NOW of recording the music
and creating the product. There has never been any glory in drooling
over artifacts from the past.
And punk rock?
Shit! At best it's become some latter day version
of a Pet Rock! And the Beach Boys had a Pet Rock before Iggy did! Don't
forget that some digital kid is now playing Dennis the Menace to Brian's
Mr. Wilson. Ha! And maybe it's what inspired Beck in the first place...
Anyway, record collections just lead us farther from the truth.
my young Virginia, the major failing of history is that
it is a reconstruction at best. The blues was likely not played by a
buncha "deep and meaningful" men as some serious-faced joker at a party
tried to convince me one night. In our conversation he was decrying
the fact that contemporary country-blues picker Steve James had the
audacity to inject a fair amount of humor into his performances. This,
he believed, was an affront to dem bluesmen who back in the day sang
about dat big leg woman. But it's hard to insist on punishing someone
for having an imagination. As Francie Nolan's teacher (in "A Tree
Grows In Brooklyn") pointed out, there is a difference between
telling the exact truth and writing down for yourself the way you think
it should have happened. This in mind, it seems to me dem ol' bluesmen
were as likely to be pretty hen-pecked jokers as they were to be macho
bohunks. Think about it. Songs and stories are created to escape as
much as to chronicle reality. And dat big leg woman was likely to use
dat leg to kick dem men in de balls if dey gets uppity! But that might
be a better herstory subject. And I can hear the distaff Minnesota Lutherans
quietly nodding, "yes, yes."
It's the same with
record collecting and music criticism. There are only so many archives
and archivable objects to go around. Beyond these are reissues and bootlegs;
poetically, they become archivable themselves. Beyond these are unauthorized
copies; at best, they become archivable to educated listeners caught
up in the act of listening. Beyond these, however, are the rudimentary
copies made by the great unwashed and uneducated who simply want something
to conveniently listen to; nothing archivable here. Yet beyond these,
in an ultimate declaration of use, is the free/soft/musicware files
that eliminate the need to "search and copy;" archivable?therein
lies the rub.
To wit: Jason Enright,
the owner of the old Jupiter Records (yes, Records!) in Austin,
TX, one evening passed along a realization about the CDs he sold. In
a nutshell, the actual music disc as well as the plastic case
in which it is packaged are made of the same basic material, via the
same basic chemical process, and they both cost exactly the same
amount of money per unit. Are we talking about values here? Are
we remembering that vinyl records were made from a material that underwent
a process that was unique to the product thus manufactured? And perhaps
one can argue the same about the jackets in which they were packaged?
For historical reasons, yes, we can pursue that argument. For practical
reasons, howeverno, we're letting that discussion lie. This is
not, after all, a "vinyl vs CD" diatribe.
If we thought the
record collector/music critic mentality was bad at the turn of the current
century... wait til all the downloadable musicware and its potential
archives gives rise to the "new critic"an old, wrinkly, tattooed
geek with sagging pierce-holes whose knowledge is so tedious, so detailed,
so mind-numbingly reprehensible... we'll WANT to hear the worst of Eric
Clapton and George Harrison if only for the relief of knowing that no
one has to tell us how bad it is. And how many more Misfits outtakes
will it take to keep granny awake? So considerthose deep musicware
(holy shit!) archives may actually come to be the best friend of the
concept of Copyright as Law. Those archives will have to be considered
property since the collector/critic bases his knowledge, thereby his
worth, on the rarity of the information/object he possesses. In this
case, ironically, he will have acquired that information/object for
free and at no risk to either his life or livelihood. Hence, once again
the immutable rise of a system of values that must be regulated not
by the possessor of the information/object but by the origin of its
most music creators of any worth never sell shit until after they're
dead, what the hell does any of this matter? The only difference is
that nowadays the graves can be robbed before the artist is in them.
©2003, 2012 SPOT/No