An Introduction To The Obsession Of Record Collecting

In 1977, at age 6, I bought my first record, Kiss Alive, and that started an obsession that, for better or worse, has taken a big chunk of both my time and money over the years.  When I really started buying albums by bands other than Kiss, in the early 80s usually courtesy of Columbia House, it was always vinyl, even as my peers were buying cassettes to play in their boomboxes.  The way I looked at it, I could tape the record, but I couldn’t make a record of the cassette.  From that point forward, vinyl was the way to go. 


Now, at 38, I have a collection, modest by some standards and huge by others, that includes well over 4000 records (over twice as many titles as I have on the vastly inferior CD format).  I spend a lot of time down in the basement listening to them, going through them, looking at the cover art.  My kids, at only five and two years old, already know how to properly handle them.  After all, the records will theirs one day if they play their cards right.  The bottom line is that, while it may seem pathetic or immature to a lot of people, those records are a big part of my life.


I still remember the advent of CDs, the format that would supposedly make vinyl obsolete.  About 20 years ago, I looking through a catalog that was in an LP I’d just bought.  I don’t remember at this point, but I think it was the Taang! distro catalog.  It could have been any of the hundreds of indie mailorders around back in the 80s though.  Those things came in just about every record I bought in the days before we lived on the internet.  At the time, I was heavily into the Misfits (something I now save for once a year) and I was appalled to find that the Misfits Collection was released on CD.  CD?!?!?  I mean, what was the world coming to?  CDs had been around for a few years at that point and it was one thing to sell this new format to rich kids and mainstream adult rock rock fans, but this was a punk Compact Disc!  Who would buy that? 


Well, apparently, plenty of people, because within a few short years, the whole world of music went from analog waves to binary bits digitized on those little discs with their cold sound and measly little album cover.  New vinyl was getting harder and harder to find aside from mailorder.  It was easy for me to bury my head in the sand at that point.  After all, everyone was dumping all of their dear old vinyl friends that had seen them through who knows what over the years, so backfilling my collection with everyone’s cast-offs for a quarter and 50 cents a piece held me over for awhile.  I still remember saying to a friend at one point that any record is worth 50 cents.  That logic filled my record shelves, just not always with the best quality.  But it was a fun time to love vinyl even if the format’s imminent demise was a dark cloud that hung over that period, waiting to unleash its digitized torrents upon the last friends of the vinyl record.


After a few years of holding out, sustained by what amounted to brute force filling of my record collection at bargain prices, it got to the point where the used vinyl frenzy was coming to an end.  I can still recall flipping through used LPs at Record & Tape Traders, the local chain in the Baltimore area, and thinking, “I have this…I have this…I have this…This might be the last time.”  I also wondered if they’d change their name, replacing “Record” with “CD.”  After all, there wasn’t much coming in and it seemed that they were just trying to clear out their stock to make room for the format that won the popularity (i.e., marketing) contest.


Well, I fought the good fight as long as I could, but it got to the point that I realized holding out against the prevailing format was just cutting off my nose to spite my face, so to speak.  I finally gave in and got a CD player in 1994.  I was just sick of listening to old stuff and didn’t have the money for massive mail ordering.  CDs were certainly convenient.  The sound was clear, but cold.  The experience was so different though and, despite giving in, I still knew I was right and continued to buy vinyl as I could.


It’s just easier to connect with a record.  I have to participate in the listening experience.  I have to clean it, flip it, respect it.  The size of the covers alone added a dimension to the experience even.  More often than not, I’m looking at the detail of a cover or perusing the inserts.  A square foot just provides a bigger canvas and a better package.  With a CD, I’m just listening, not uninvolved altogether, but certainly less involved than I would be with vinyl spinning.  But most of all, I have to make time for them.  I can’t just grab one and throw it in the car.  I can’t put some LPs in the disc changer and get a random mix.  I have to participate.  I have to sit at home and actually spend time listening, neither passive nor distracted.  For me, the richer, fuller sound of vinyl is nice.  The large artwork is even more important.  But it’s the ritual that makes the vinyl experience so vastly superior to any other format.  That connectedness is why cassettes, CDs and now MP3s have all failed to dig vinyl’s grave and now, with cassettes gone entirely and CD sales in a steady decline, it is the vinyl record, that beautiful piece of plastic that is so much more than just a bunch of tunes, that finds its numbers on the rise.  It’s good to be right.

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