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04.06.09

collection


(Big news, and yet another major disruption in my life. The last move nearly killed me, but for some reason I feel a lot calmer this time, probably because we don't have a baby on the way as I pack. But ask me how I feel in a month.)

WE BOUGHT A HOUSE. It's one of those concise little sentences whose deceptive simplicity confounds anyone on the outside of its factual gravity, and evokes life-altering milestones ("I got married." "We had a kid." "It was cancer.") for anyone with a similar phrase in their own biography.

I can't take much credit - all of the hard work and a serious chunk of the money needed were my wife's doing, though my severance check from the paper went toward transforming our house-buying ambition from possibility to potential. I've been coasting along for most of the process, though from this point on my job begins - painting and fixing up the new place, and moving.

Moving. I've been doing my best to prevent the word - and all it entails - from pushing me over into a full-blown anxiety attack. I've moved seven times in my life; my wife has lost count of all her moves, which comprise at least three different cities to my one. I was always hoping we'd be in our current digs for more than four and a half years, but my wife's obvious dissatisfaction - and her nightly trawls through real estate websites - made sure I always knew better. As a result, we've never really hung pictures on the walls, and there are still unpacked boxes from the last move.

Ploughing the severance into the home buying project has meant that I've been living off of precious little since I was laid off - basically whatever freelance I've been able to scrounge together, the generous donations I've gotten from this site's readers (once again - thank you all very much) and whatever I've been able to make from converting my liquid assets into cash.

I'm not talking about stocks and bonds, a car, or collections of rare baseball cards or expensive watches. My liquid assets are books, DVDs, CDs and even LPs - the layers of stuff I've plastered onto my life since I started earning my own money, and for some reason most of them have retained some resale value, which I've been eager to exploit especially now that it looks like I'll have to box them up and move them again.

If you've ever carried a box of CDs down two flights of stairs and back up again, over and over, you'll have some idea of why I'm so eager to move as few of these things as possible, never mind build shelves for them one more time. I've been broke and sold CDs before, but unless I had a few spare boxes of blank C90s, I'd have been saying goodbye to the music forever - not an option today, in an age of mp3s and cheap 500GB hard drives, and so my evenings have been taken up with evaporating the music off of hundreds of discs into the Seagate drive under my desk, trying hard to ignore the gnawing fear that one little technological gremlin could make all my work utterly futile.

I used to think I'd be carrying this stuff with me for the rest of my life - which might explain the scarce moves - but there's a lot of things we do today that seemed impossible or ridiculous ten years ago, like relying on your phone to both connect and amuse you for half of your waking day, newspapers disappearing altogether, or a black man becoming president of the Unites States, and that he'd make Carter seem like a paragon of statesmanship on the order of Woodrow Wilson.

Which is why I read something like this with a smile and a nod of recognition. London Lee, the author of the site, used to run one of my favorite mp3 blogs, posting rare soul tracks, before shutting it down and started a far more interesting biographical diary, illustrated with videos and music. Born and raised in London, he moved to the U.S. years ago, leaving behind a record collection that - rare among those who've done such a thing - he intended to reunite with at some point in the future.

"When I moved to the States I stored all my records in my Dad's basement and it was 10 long years before I finally had them shipped over," Lee writes. "When those battered cardboard boxes landed on my doorstep it was like being reunited with my lost self, as if someone had just dug up the dusty artifacts of a past life that had been fading into the distance after spending a decade in a dark room thousands of miles away."

I used to think I had this sort of familiar relationship with my music, but the sporadic cash flow of freelancing severed that bond early on, and while I've shed the musical traces of several of my lost selves, I've actually been recovering a lot of those records online, rebuilding the sound, if not the physical form, of several lost record collections. The prog records I owned before punk came along? Got 'em all, along with all the Genesis and Pink Floyd records my brother-in-law owned - the first serious record collection I ever saw.

All that early '80s post punk and new wave that I listened to as a lonely college student? Check. All the hardcore and indie records I hoarded when I started my career as a music critic in the drunken, drugged-out balance of that decade? All here, in their artfully shabby, angsty, shambolic glory, right next to the "challenging" jazz and avant-garde records I collected after a few years of writing about music had turned youthful energy into snobby aestheticism, all preserved in digital amber.

"Records are vulnerable, fragile things," Lee writes, "the way they can scratch and warp gives them a human quality that cold, perfect CDs lack, you can feel the patina of age on a vinyl album just as much as you can a human face. But now with even the CD becoming obsolete it seems like music formats are shrinking out of existence, from twelve inches of vinyl to little silver discs to... well, nothing really, a sequence of digital ones and zeroes downloaded off the web with all the tangible reality of a cloud. It's like music stripped of all the lovely touchy-feely pleasures, there's no there there and how can you be that emotionally invested in something that doesn't exist?"

"I have a whopping 45GB of mp3 files on my computer but if they all got deleted tomorrow it would be a pain in the arse but I wouldn't be all that upset about it because I could just replace them with ones that were literally exactly the same. You can't say the same about records, I've been slowly replacing some of the ones I either sold or lost over the years (the ones that aren't too expensive anyway) but the "new" copy will never be that one, the one I bought when I was 16 with the scratch on the last track I sometimes still hear in my brain even when I listen to a pristine mp3 of the same song."

Lee proves the thesis of a film my friend Alan made a bunch of years ago, about serious vinyl collectors and their justifications for hoarding. Over and over, Alan would confront record collectors - myself included - with the suggestion that they weren't really into music as much as they were into owning and handling some physical manifestation of the music, or of something the music meant to them. My willingness to evaporate my collection into bits suggests that it was really about music - or maybe just owning lots of music - but Lee is proof that Alan's thesis was on to something, with at least a few people.

The funny thing is that a sizeable chunk of my digital music collection is out-of-print punk singles, EPs and LPs that might have been collected on a compilation LP, but have never seen life in the digital realm, and so I have hundreds of mp3 files that preserve the pops and scratches on someone else's record - aural artifacts that will probably always remain part of the music. Listening to them is to hear not only a record of the music recorded in some dingy studio during cheaper overnight sessions, but of the physical state of one of the records produced by that session, as it was committed to digital memory on some indeterminate day years later by some enthusiastic collector. It's kind of trippy, if you think about it too long.


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© 2009 rick mcginnis all rights reserved

WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters. i've worked as a photographer, journalist and, recently, tv columnist. currently a member of the growing workforce awaiting new employment opportunities. church-going catholic.

punk rock was my crucible, lodestone and avalon.

i look nothing like william powell.

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