I started collecting music in 1979 when I paid $1.99 for ‘Lucky Number’ by Lene Lovich. I had seen her on Ready to Roll and the quirky energy of her ‘New Wave’ sound (and look) appealed to my 12 year old mind. At the time, the song wasn’t played on the radio so buying a personal copy was the only way to hear the hooks and melody stuck in my head. Within a year I was spending a lot of my free time in record stores meticulously flicking through LPs, agonizing over whether I should spend $7.99 on a whole album of songs when I only ever wanted to listen to the single over and over again.
Over the next 10 years I amassed a collection of several hundred records, spending several thousand dollars constructing a personal narrative of music history. Of course, there was no need to buy everything as likeminded friends could tape their albums for you, but if you truly loved something, you wanted it on vinyl.
Once at university I became a student radio DJ getting access to their massive collection of the best music, enthusiastically sharing my taste many times a week, most happily on the weekend all-nighters where from 11pm to 7am there were no programmed playlists just 8 hours of me (and a friend or girlfriend, and a sly bottle of nasty) broadcasting the music I loved to the world (at least, to the greater Christchurch area).
Like a lot of people I no longer have a turntable so my vinyl collection, now worth much more than I ever spent, sits in dusty crates under my house. When CDs came out there was a media blitz telling everyone to discard their records as CDs were perfect and lasted forever. It was a good sales pitch. My CD collection now sits beside the records, un-played, with little resale value.
Like most people my phone has swallowed my music collection. All my CDs are digitized and the vinyl replaced by digital copies. I have 6,358 songs constantly in my pocket, more than I would ever want to listen to. At a guess, 90% have never been played (in this format, at least). Which says something about the nature of collecting; it is as much about the act as the result. Maybe that is why I have resisted the move towards streaming services like Spotify which by their nature seem to deny the joy of collecting.
A few weeks ago I stepped into a record store for the first time in decades. The place was full of people actively searching through vinyl as I once did. The vinyl revival is real. Sales are growing faster than any digital format and specific vinyl charts have returned because 1. They just sound better 2. Collecting is about searching for, and acquiring, something you can hold (even something as ephemeral as thoughts are nothing until collected and turned into a form someone else can grasp, like a book).
Last week I experienced a cute moment of near symmetry when I bought a digital copy of ‘Lucky Number’ for $1.79 so I could play it to my daughter. While the price is satisfyingly similar to my first outlay, the equivalence feels hollow as the digital copy lacks the urgent energy of the 45 (it is heavily compressed for tiny speakers, devoid of the original piezoelectric spark of crystal in groove). But, most of all, it cannot sit in a box like a piece of treasure from the past, slowly acquiring value, waiting to be re-discovered and admired.