Just Keep Spinning – Reflections on Music Collecting

A friend kindly recommended my latest film screening – So Wrong They’re Right, a low-budget indie VHS documentary on offbeat 8-track collector culture and the 8-Track Mind zine. I’ve been exploring UK hauntological music and art lately so the retro subject matter fit right in. It was great to hear Wally Pleasant’s “Rock n’ Roll Yard Sales” on the soundtrack.

And serendipitously, while watching the film a related short appeared in my social media feed – an informational demo film to educate consumers about the upcoming compact disc format produced in 1982.

And WFMU just shared that Atlas Obscura published a feature yesterday called, “Inside the World’s Best Collection of Unintentionally Funny VHS Tapes” with this hilarious short!

Much like the VHS culture documentaries, Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking, the 8-track film made me reflect on my own music collector hobby and how in the past year I’ve really put the breaks on my vinyl habit. Unlike vinyl, most 8-tracks are practically given away and as interviewees of the film profess, they’ve had to plead with Goodwill store managers just to get them to put their 8-track stock on the sales floor. (There are exceptions, of course. Discogs currently offers over 8,000 8-tracks in its marketplace, the second-most-expensive of which is a mint tape of Trout Mask Replica presently priced at $1,500.00.)

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica 8-Track Tape

But conversely, with vinyl, I’ve reached a point in my collecting where all the remaining titles on my wish list command $80-$550 apiece. And the days of scoring elusive original pressings of releases you’re after at your local VoA are long gone after the store’s inventories have been thoroughly picked over by eBayer resellers or by hipster employees who pull all the good stuff before it has a chance to hit the floor. And for my personal tastes, thrift shops have never been a good resource for the kind of content I seek.

Thankfully a lot of the rare early electronic, drone, and import tape music of the last century, and even of the 90s during vinyl’s darkest days, are being remastered and reissued by Dutch, German, and UK specialty labels, but with shipping you’re still looking at $60 minimum per release so I’ve resolved to reel in my habit and to spend more conservatively this past year.

It’s left me to wonder what the future holds for my hobby. I really enjoy the research and the unconventional subcultures surrounding the format, I just don’t know to what degree I can continue to participate in the acquisition and trade of the albums, themselves. And vinyl has been a significant part of my identity for many years, so I question how I’ll continue to occupy myself beyond this bizarre little pastime.

Thankfully, I have more music at present than I could experience in a lifetime, so at the very least I can kick back and enjoy exploring my archives. And I can continue to supplement my web-based research with more contextual studies from books specializing in my favorite genres. My next read will be Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs and should provide hours of reading enjoyment and hopefully an intimate understanding of a century of electronic sound.

Whether as a collector or just a researcher, this is indeed the finest time to be alive. Sites like Discogs and RYM provide instantaneous access to release data and listener reviews which previously took days or weeks of calls and form submissions to the LoC to obtain, and every day more and more fans upload thousands of hours or rare and exotic content from their collections to YouTube and file-sharing networks. It’s a curious phenomenon because when everything is accessible, nothing is rare. So, arguments for the paradox of choice aside, this is the greatest time in history for the inquiring listener. I plan to keep reading and listening, and maybe one day score a few of my remaining white whales.

Whatever your preferred format, be it 8-track, LP, cylinder, cassette, CD… just keep spinning.

Is anyone else getting rid of their physical media altogether?

Now that I’ve purchased my first home, it seems a great time to shed some dead weight from my material possessions. My top 3000 LPs will stay – I’ve got them neatly shelved and organized in my office. I enjoy the ritual of interacting with the medium and nothing beats gatefold artwork. But everything else – cassettes, VHS, CDs, and DVDs, all seemed pointless to keep anymore.

Today I boxed up hundreds of CDs and traded them at a local Disc Exchange for 25 cents each. The cash I made was well worth the space it freed up on my bookshelves for music literature. (Most of the reference texts I enjoy I much prefer to read in a physical format than as an ebook.)

Of my ~750 CDs I kept only a handful from artists who really shaped my listening in the 90s. I kept several 20-bit remasters of classic jazz LPs and several debut singles like Reznor’s HALO 1 Down in It, Manson’s Get Your Gunn single and the Live at the Snakepit bootleg, and the 1989 Caroline Records debut single by White Zombie, Make Them Die Slowly. But other than a handful of cassette and CD promos, it really seemed time to let the rest go.

Honestly they will function more as interesting artifacts and conversation pieces rather than as a medium for audio/video playback.

I also spotted a large box of my fiance’s home-taped VHS tapes today. I offered to have her top 5 tapes converted to AVI and the rest we can dump.

Still, I confess – I’m keeping bargain bin VHS copies of cult classics including Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, YOG: Monster From Space, and the Pee-Wee Christmas Special… this is the shit I’m going to force my grandkids to watch someday.

So what about the rest of you digitally-savvy ladies and gents? Do you still hold onto physical media?

Published in: on October 10, 2015 at 9:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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