June 01, 2003

History Lesson, Part II

Here are the rest of my answers from the interview Bitch magazine conducted with me last December. (Part I in yesterday's entry, here.)

5) Do you have any preferred collecting methods (trading, record fairs, small record shops, record store employment, etc)? How are the experiences different?

The easiest and best method of acquiring records by far is through working at a used record store! I bought absolutely insane amounts of records during my tenure at In Your Ear (Cambridge and Boston stores). People were getting rid of vinyl in mass quantities in the early 90s, and I got first crack at all the records that were sold to the store... well, along with the other employees. But I didn't have much competition, as no one else I worked with tended to care about the same kind of music. And Boston is a great, great town for music in general, with all the colleges in the area spawning bands and music consumers alike. As a result we'd get people selling really excellent records: lots of post-punk, British 80s indie, Flying Nun label rarities... most of what I was seeking I was able to find just by standing behind the counter each day.

Spoiled as I was by that experience, I don't get that excited by shopping in used record stores anymore. That's also partly due to my being in New York City -- there's too much competition! I like finding bargains, especially when I'm taking a chance on a record by a band I've never heard, or maybe even never heard of, if the sleeve looks interesting.

I made a lot of great finds online early on via Usenet newsgroups and bulletin boards (pre-Web), before eBay came along to demonstrate the true value of some of those records. But as with NYC record stores, there's just too much competition now for me to make anything more than the occasional purchase online, and whenever I do buy something on eBay it's almost always something that I know is virtually impossible to find otherwise.

My most successful online record collecting experiences have actually involved my web site. I've had a record want list up on my site for a number of years now, and people actually write to me from time to time offering items for sale based on that. The best was when someone in England offered to sell me all of his Caff label singles (Caff = small indie label run by Bob Stanley of St. Etienne, most releases limited to 500 copies only), an amazing offer given how I had only managed to track down one up until then, as they were so rare.

My favorite shopping experiences now are when I go to new cities and hit the used record stores. Throughout the years I've had amazing record finding experiences in cities as varied as Montreal, New Orleans and Glasgow. And there are still a few places from which I can never leave without a big bag of records under my arm, chief among them the Princeton Record Exchange (a convenient 1.5 hour drive from me). I also never miss the twice-yearly record fair sponsored by radio station WFMU. Sometimes I find nothing, but then other times I end up spending all the money I came in with (and then some). Nonetheless, it's fun to just walk around and browse through everyone's records and talk to the dealers.

6) If you really like a song, would you be satisfied having it on a comp, or would you have to find the original album or single? Would you have to have it in all possible formats and/or pressings? (If you have multiple formats/pressings of the same works [can be different versions of the same song], name some and what they mean to you or how you ended up with multiple versions or formats.)

I think it's part of the collector urge to want to get the actual record. The closer to the original release, the better. And I am very much a completist when it comes to bands and labels, so I'll always try to get as many records by or on each as I can. For my two favorite bands, the Go-Betweens and the Chills, I will even go so far as to seek out test pressings, foreign releases/pressings, the same record in as many formats as possible, all regardless of whether or not the exact same music is on each. It's all about the record as a desirable object, but that desire to own each musical artifact is driven first and foremost by the music.

I always thought how depressing it would be to be a big fan of the Beatles or Rolling Stones -- you'd never be able to get all of their records!

7) In you early collecting experience, did you have many female peers/friends who collected or that you would talk about music with? What about now? If there has been a change, what do you think contributed to the change?

While I do have a number of female friends who are very into music, relatively speaking, none are really record collectors. Even in high school, I did go to shows with some of my female friends, but it was the guys I worked with at the record store who were really into the collecting thing. It's still quite an anomaly to be female and a record collector, as I see every time I go to the WFMU Record Fair and find myself one of the only women in line, out of 75 or so people waiting to get in for early admission (for the hard-core collectors). But I've gotten used to it. Being a woman does have some advantages in this context, as many men don't consider me as much of a "threat" when I come up alongside them to flip through the adjacent box of records, so I tend not to get elbowed out of the way as much!

8) Has the overall experience of collecting music changed since you started? How?

Sadly, it has gotten a bit less fun as I've found most of the records I'd been looking for. But as long as I'm discovering new bands there will always be more records to hunt for. There just aren't as many items on my want list as there used to be.

On the flipside, I'm able to enjoy the collection I have much more now that it's organized. And I love to introduce new friends to my music collection -- we can have hours of fun just pulling records and playing them on the stereo!

9) Based on your experiences, do you think that men and women relate to music differently? Do you think that men and women employ different tactics or habits in their record collecting?

Well, I can't help but conclude that men and women do indeed view music differently, as that jives with all of my experiences. I think both sexes can absolutely have just as much a connection to music, and it's just as important... but record collecting is a very specific activity that has just as much to do with music as it does a kind of obsessive, hoarding impulse, which I think we all have to some degree. My mother collects things like vintage women's makeup compacts, and other friends of mine have massive collections of books or vintage clothing.

I've also heard from women that they are intimidated by certain record store clerks or other music know-it-alls, the kind who take great pleasure in letting you know how much more unimportant minutiae about this band's line-up changes or that label's catalog numbering system that you do. And yes, men are also hit with this kind of snobbery, but women are by default assumed to not know anything, and that's pretty offensive. So on the few occasions when I've had the chance to give the musical smackdown to one of those posers I'll admit I've done it, with glee.

10) How can you explain the perception that jazz is a "masculine" style and that there are few women collecting jazz?

Jazz is outside my area of expertise, but I'd venture to say that a lot of the elements that make collecting a trainspotters'-type obsession are found even more so in jazz, where artists like John Coltrane or Miles Davis have a dauntingly large catalog of releases. So it's harder to enter into that world when you don't even know where to begin.

11) Do you collect only records that you will keep and listen to, or do you buy records with the intent of selling them? If you do, what goes into your decision to buy a record only to sell it (or trade it)?

I've bought my share of records for resale, and I still do it as a way to make a little extra money. I think of it as a side benefit of having accumulated so much otherwise useless musical knowledge, really. And it's thrilling to snap up a record you see selling for next to nothing when you know it's worth a lot more. But I'd say 90% or more of the records I buy are for myself or for friends. I tell all my friends to let me know what they're looking for, since I inevitably seem to happen upon that record that was supposedly impossible to find.

When I decide to sell records from my own collection, it's almost always because I have another copy, so I'm just selling off an extra. I have a lot of duplicates, since at one point I was DJ-ing, running a fanzine, doing freelance music writing and working at a record store -- so I'd buy a record, then get a copy of it in the mail. And I have always kept all the records I've ever bought, never sold off any significant number of them. I still buy copies of records I already own, but now it's to get one that's in better shape, since a lot of the earlier ones I got I bought regardless of whether it was scratched to hell.

12) Did you see the movie High Fidelity or read the book? How did you like it? Did you see yourself reflected in it? What about the Canadian documentary Vinyl? Can you think of any formats that have portrayed female record collectors?

Oh yeah, I read High Fidelity when the book first came out. I think I was in London, actually, and I bought it there in the middle of a record-shopping trip. It captures the whole record-clerking thing with a frightening amount of accuracy. Reading the book (and then seeing the movie), I saw myself and my former co-workers in a lot of those scenes. And the overall message about how collecting is this kind of crutch or impediment to other, healthier forms of social interaction... that also rang true. I try not to judge anyone by their record collection, but I can't deny how important music is to me, so I do naturally gravitate to others who feel the same way. But yeah, I do have other interests!

The only other place I've seen female record collectors featured was in the Incredibly Strange Music books. That was pretty cool.

Posted by nstop at June 01, 2003 10:41 PM


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