Monday, September 12, 2005

Goodbye, Vinyl

When you’ve lived with your stuff for so long, sometimes it takes someone new to give you a sense of perspective on it. This was certainly the case when recently my beloved wife of 5 months decided I didn’t need my collection of LPs on vinyl anymore.

“You don’t listen to them. They’re just taking up space.”

“But . . . I collected those.”

I had decided a long time ago not to be a Shrevie about my record collection – you know, the guy in Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) who goes ballistic when his wife messes around with his records, which seemed to be an unhealthy extension of his own identity. By “a long time ago,” I mean that after the first pang of recognizing myself in that character, it took several years for me to shuck off the humiliation of such recognition, stand on my own two feet, and decide that there were more important things in life than “what’s on the B-side.” Since that epiphany, I have been content to let perfect strangers rifle through my collection and make rude comments about it, or rearrange it out of alphabetical or genre order. I have learned to live with the chaos.

And while it was true that (1) I hadn’t plugged in a turntable in years, and (2) I had re-collected a good percentage of my vinyl collection on CD and that even that wasn’t getting listened to the way it used to, I still had to sit down for a moment in a quiet room and seek some clarity.

As usual, however, I was soon able to come to the conclusion that my wife was correct – I wasn’t listening to them, they were taking up space, and moreover my self-esteem had long ago managed to declare its independence from what was in my record collection. In that quiet room I also remembered a passage in Walter Kerr’s The Silent Clowns, in which he writes disparagingly of collectors of old cans of silent movies -- some of which are otherwise lost to the ages -- who horde their cache like trophies, keeping them out of circulation or letting them rot, never again to be experienced and appreciated by the public. I didn’t want to be retentive for the sake of being retentive.

After trading phone calls with a local vinyl dealer, on Saturday we loaded up 3 boxes of my decomposing records and lugged them up the dealer’s narrow, dark staircase.

“You the guy I just spoke to?,” asked Jerry, the big, hairy proprietor.

“Yeah, that was me. About 200 records here” – some 1980s jazz reissues, some Beatles and post-Beatles rarities, Monty Python, some Joy Division first-pressings, a bunch of obscure classical stuff (Alkan, Poulenc, Milhaud, Geminiani, Delius), and a smattering of other things that I can afford now to admit I’m embarrassed about – that sullen singer-songwriter that my girlfriend and I latched onto when we were in high school, that LP of Senate Majority leader Robert Byrd where he plays the fiddle, etc.

Jerry sat astride a stool and inspected my LPs in chubby handfuls, carefully sizing up each individual record before designating it for an appropriate pile. Although he didn’t say what the significance of the piles were, I quickly guessed that one was the stuff he thought was pretty interesting, one was the stuff that he had too many copies of already but might sell someday, and one was the stuff he’d rather not pay for, but would take if I threw it in.

There were some he paused over, making curious comments: a Thelonius Monk reissue (“Oh, yeah, that Italian label . . . ”), five volumes of Senate Watergate testimony (“You know there’s gotta be someone out there who wants this . . .”), a miscellany by Cajun swing fiddler Harry Choates (“Wow!”), a Clarence Williams collection (“I haven’t seen this packaging before . . . ”), George Harrison’s Wonderwall, a critical bomb but a collector’s dream (“Ha!”). The “interesting” stack was the tallest of the bunch.

All the classical LPs ended up in the “throw-in” pile. “I suppose you want me to take these, too.”

“If you can, sure.”

He named his price. I didn’t even muster up much of a grimace before he raised it. That told me he knew he was getting some good stuff. I agreed, and we took the cash. “That’s great,” he said. “You’re going to make some collectors very happy – you had a lot of unusual items there.”

There it was again, my sense of pride over this stack of cardboard-encased vinyl, rushing back with a warm embrace like an old friend. I smiled as I wandered back down the stairway. I knew he’d make some money on me, but I didn’t care. I was happy to hear that I had done a good job with that collection. It was good to know that my judgments could be validated by someone. And I really didn’t need to possess these records anymore to know it, either.

If you’re interested in picking through what I left behind, visit Jerry's Records on Murray Avenue, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.

See also:

Marketplace (American Public Media): "Day in the Work Life," featuring Jerry's Records (March 12, 2005)



Anonymous Nootbaar said...

Empathy, sympathy or disappointment?

I’m not sure where to begin this "response." It pains me to think you too have lost your record collection. My far less collectable but no less sentimental collection is dwindling before my eyes. Women will never understand the need to have a record collection and today’s young men with their downloads and ipods will never fully understand who I am just like I can never fully understand what it was like to make a day out of a meal. Cocktails sans women, linen napkins to keep the unfolding courses off my trousers, followed by brandy and cigars in the study where a woman would venture ONLY to clean the ashtray and even for that only during day light hours. Possessing the sound contained on the vinyl is only a sliver of the need to own the album. The liner notes, the art work, the hand written numbers pressed into the black vinyl and the pride you feel when you realize you have kept this precious disc in perfect condition since the day you brought it home and played it three times in a row sitting on your bedroom floor. Men need records like women need pictures and love letters. Ours just take up more room. When I was first dating Karen she decided to "help" me while I was away at work by alphabetizing my collection. I think she knew the importance of the albums and wanted to be part of my passion but to enter your dorm room only to find all your records spread on the floor with you girlfriend sitting in the middle of them is a shocker to say the least. From then on she never touched them. That was until we had been married for 11 years. Either she had forgotten about that day or "Record Collection" was the next thing on her "things to change about Mark before I die" list. I put up a fight but I knew there was no way to win. Soon they will all be gone. Some will have been dubbed over to CD but that is a sad replacement. Others will just be lost to Jerry or the trash. But to think that you… married less than a year… have already given into this request is troubling. First you get the smaller bathroom. Then she redecorates the bedroom. There needs to be several more steps before jumping right to the albums. Maybe you are that close to perfect and her "to-do" list is very short. Draw the line in the sand before she makes you change your style of underwear.

Not long after Karen and I were married we went ice skating and an elderly gentleman (not old enough to understand his father’s all day diner but old enough to remember chasing after the ice man on a hot August day asking for a chip to suck on) asked us how long we had been married. He then asked me if I had broken a tea cup yet. What? He explained to me that the first time your wife asks you to do the dishes you should break her best teacup so she will never ask you to wash dishes again. Ask a newlywed that same question today and he might share a few details about his sex life. After you explain your out dated meaning he will only reply that his home has two dishwashers so even if one breaks he will not have to wash anything. I hope his wife erases his ipod some day.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous MAD said...

I've always wondered what was at Jerry's. Thanks Kerstin for saving me the trip up the stairs.

6:00 PM  

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