Collecting: A Cyclical Pattern

I don’t know if I am special in this respect, but these past 10 to 20 years my collecting habits have taken on a cyclical pattern. This basically means that a specific collecting (and listening) streak reaches its saturation point and is replaced by a new one, in my case often by one that diverges sharply from the previous one.

I know it sounds more complicated than it should, but it really isn’t. Whereas many collectors keep want- or wishlists and jump on releases or reissues when they become available, I do things a bit differently, albeit not completely. I do have a wishlist of items that I regularly search for in the vain hope that I might actually be able to unearth one or t’other, but this way of acquiring new items has basically taken a backseat because what is usually available if one waits long enough is hardly ever available anymore at a decent price. Too many collectors frequent once mostly uninhabited stomping grounds and some of those collectors seem to have too much money to spare, and unearthing new grounds has become increasingly difficult. Besides, the “big” items I’ve had on my list(s) I managed to acquire over the years. Today, only the real big ones are left, the ones that most collectors only part with in global nuclear war scenarios … and maybe not even then.

What I see happening in my life more frequently is that my somewhat temporary listening habits might take a sharp turn to the left or right, or from one decade two or more back, and that with this development comes a new or renewed area of interest that begets new research and a renewed buying frenzy. Of course, “frenzy” is too strong a word as my finances are limited, but in relation, all buying activities are directed to a new field. So, when that hits the saturation point, I move to a new one, usually naturally, or return to an old one and start afresh, often suddenly unearthing items I hadn’t been able to find in the previous “round”.

Does this make sense?

Case in point. These past years I’ve tried to flesh out my jazz collection. Of course, “jazz” is such an immensely broad field that one can’t even begin to strive for any sort of completeness in that area. Considering the many “sub-genres”, one could have eternally cyclical collecting patterns in that field alone, but in my case, the listening habits can’t or couldn’t keep up. At some point I need to step out of jazz completely, “completely” being a relative term here. I’ll still listen to it regularly, but the focus is shifting to something else to re-attune my ears to entirely different music. These past months it has felt like a tectonic shift.

In my case, lately, that has been pop, (heavy) rock and soul music of the 60s, 70s and early 80s – basically music I had gotten tired of several “rounds” ago. The inciting moment might be something utterly banal. The other day I was asked if I could put on some “Temptations”. It didn’t take long for my face to start pulsing in various blushing patterns because I soon discovered that despite blurting out that I have everything under the sun (did I ever mention that we collectors also have super-egos?), I only had very little Temptations material, and what I had, I only had as mediocre digital files. While trying to suppress the blushing, I also noticed that I had “lost touch” with my collection of that period in soul music and that I just didn’t know where to look and what I had. I knew I had some, somewhere, but spread out over various boxed sets and half a meter of compilations covering that era. I decided to refrain from crawling around all too long and simply gave up at some point.

So, I did what all good and sane collectors do: I went hunting. As I always do first, I hit the Steve Hoffman Forums and searched for The Temptations, trying to find out what might be worthwhile. It soon became apparent that besides a very limited number of bearable collections and reissues, the consensus was that “Emperors of Soul”, the 1994 Motown 5-disc boxed set, was a compromise and bore the largest number of recommendations. Many of the other compilations and reissues apparently suck sonically.

Of course, the only thing my usual online shopping haunts told me was that I was looking at spending a hefty sum of money for this boxed set, so off to eBay I went and, lo and behold, the set was available through eBay.de. To make a long story short, I got a mint boxed set for under 20 Euro and that’s where the “problems” start. Most of the material on there is stunningly good and combined with my recent research into Ray Charles’ “Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1952-1959” and the Motown singles boxes as well as having manged to aquire two of the Stax/Volt boxes insanely cheap, what we have here is a new field opening up that I have hit occasionally but never really delved into.

Exciting. That’s the best word I can use here. None of this is really that far removed from jazz, the Ray Charles material being the best example for this, but it’s not only the “new” groove that is sharpening my senses again. Maybe I’m going too far here, but it’s like a fix from a new drug that doesn’t start a new fire but certainly rekindles a secondary one that has been smoldering in the corner.

Let’s take the Temptations box to desribe what happens. It is essentially a collection of defining tracks released on the eve of their 25th anniversary and it collects more than 100 tracks from more than 40 albums which spawned 35 Top 40 tracks. It’s all here. Being more than a casual listener though, who might merely sample the many hits such as “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t to Proud to Beg,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and “Plastic Man”, I started checking out their suprisingly good psychedelic soul of songs such as “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack,” and “Ball of Confusion” and, worst of all, I started reading the comprehensive 80-page book to be found slipcased inside.

Comparing what I was hearing to what was being said and detailed in that book, I stumbled across the names Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland once again, a trio of utterly brilliant songwriters and renowned as perhaps the most influential Motown production team. And off we go, cross-checking what else they did on sessions I already have, who they worked with, what’s missing, and … you get the picture. Frenzy.

In the end though, all of this means that I have to eventually move out of my apartement to make room for more music. These past years I have been very reluctant to sell anything I have, and believe me, I have some really embarrassing stuff I should really be getting rid of, but it won’t take long until I have to part with some of the things I have. Somehow. In light of what I have said above, parting with material one might return to at one point or another is not really an option though. Catch-22 all around. It just does prove that passionate collectors are different from the rest and that “cyclical” might well be synonymous with “insane” or plain “stupid”. The latter would be much more apparent if you saw what I have been buying lately. But that’s material for another post.

On a last note: I only discovered an otherwise widely-known idiom when I listened to Don Henley’s “Gimme What You Got“, but I know today that I would disagree with it: “Hearses don’t have luggage racks” might be true, but I’m sure that I want my hearse to have the collector’s edition racks, in chrome, perhaps even gold-plated, with special packaging and basically lots of bling bling of any kind.

I’m going to go to hell in style, folks,and I’m takin’ it all with me.

All of it.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. While I may not go to the extremes that you do, I do often follow a similar pattern.  🙂 A few years back, I “discovered” Prokofiev when my college orchestra played his first symphony.  I got a CD of that, which also had the fifth symphony, and I was hooked!  I bought a bunch more Prokofiev and for a while that was most of what I wanted to listen to.  Same thing with Mahler and others.

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  2. You’ve got one up on me there. My classical collection is painfully thin. There’s plenty of opportunity for a ton of collecting cycles in the near or far future in that area. I just wish my income would grow in a cyclical pattern as well. 😉

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  3. “When I retire, I will have time to listen…”

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  4. That’ll be the topic of one of the next posts. Stay tuned … 😉

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