Why I Do What I Do

After having covered many of the things that can bug a music collector like me in three different posts, I came across “I Heart Compact Discs” by Jared Christensen, a new 9rules member. It made me think of why I do actually collect so much music.

From experience I know that we collectors are a special breed, but from simply observing people around me, I do believe that collecting is a genetic thing shared by many in more or less extreme forms. I know people who collect the more obvious things like stamps, books and art, but also people into things like watches, coffee mugs and – not exactly a cheap hobby – motorcycles (my question why anyone would need more than twenty of those is invariably answered with the one as to why I have several thousand CDs).

I can’t speak for the others, but aside from knowing that what I do is crazy and, considering the expenditure, extravagant, it has become a part of my life that is just too difficult to shake. It’s not an obsession or a clinical condition yet, but there have been times when common sense went out the window and money was spent on some rare recording, a limited-edition book, or even some equally rare Scandinavian bone china or furniture. There have been times when the “gotta have” voice in my head was just screaming too incessantly for me to successfully battle that particular inner demon.

Don’t laugh, but it all really started one day in 1986 when I bought a book by Stephen King, entitled “It”. I had always been a bookworm and after I had read that book in basically one sitting (quite a feat if you consider the 1000+ page count), I decided to catch up on what the man had written previously. Once I had figured out how many good writers there were in that field, that one book quickly turned into a collection of contemporary horror fiction and today I have 11 vitrines filled to the brim with rare to ultra-rare paperbacks, trade-paperbacks, hardcover limited and lettered editions. I wrote reviews for magazines, published essays and articles here and there and basically spent 10 years of my life filling (gaping) holes in my collection. When done with the 80s, I went back to the 70s (not all too much there), the 60s and back into the pulp era. Then my interest fizzled out and today I just buy the odd anthology or reprint to fill some small holes here or there or to keep ongoing series up to date. My life just developed in a way that the time needed for perusing a good novel somehow disappeared.

When my interest faded and my life became a lot busier, I unconsciously re-channeled the money into buying music. I already had a substantial collection of LPs, but sometime around 1984/85 I started buying CDs when it had become obvious that the new format would catch hold. For years I walked by a second-hand store several times a week (at the end every day on the way to work) and I noticed that people, for whatever reason, were unloading CDs at quite a rapid pace, and if one went into that one shop every day, sooner or later most new CDs were available at a 50% – 70% discount. On top of that, the owner was an imbecile and had absolutely no idea about music (the shop has since closed), so I could often get my hands on rare stuff extremely cheap. I once calculated that I paid about $5 for each CD, $7 for a double-CD and if I had had to pay more, I would not have been able to afford all of them.

To cut a long story short, today I’m sitting on several thousand CDs, many of which are somewhat rare collectors’ boxed sets, out-of-print or special editions I hunted around for on eBay, the most obscure online shops or got via personal contact with other enthusiasts.

What do I get out of it? I also have about a terabyte of music (all legal, I might add) on my PC, but still nothing compares to taking out a Mosaic collector’s box, playing the enclosed superb remasters and reading the equally excellent book(let) that comes along with each set. CDs, booklets, boxes, LPs and covers have a haptic quality that music downloads simply can’t touch (pardon the pun) and I actually pity people that only have that limited experience.

Don’t get me wrong: I know it’s the music that counts first and foremost, and I readily subscribe to that statement, but to me listening to music is often also an experience which I set time aside for. Apart from often having music running while I work, I take an evening off to sit down to either consciously explore or revisit the music I have, often comparing different recording sessions (jazz), different interpretations (classical) or simply listening intensively to a live recording.

On top of that, through online and real-life forums, I’ve met a ton of very interesting people who either share this interest of mine or who have developed a similar passion for other things in life. Many of these meetings have turned into real friendships and the many talks I’ve had with these people have hardly ever centered on collecting but have opened up new areas of conversation ranging from the wildlife in northern Canada to dealing with Westerners in rural Japan. In early 2006, for example, I will probably be meeting with a Chinese music collector who will be visiting Europe for the Mozart festivities and I’m sure we will be talking more about life in China today than collecting every classical recording available on this planet (which he is apparently attempting to do).

On a final note: In my opinion, to have this kind of listening experience described above, good stereo equipment is absolutely essential, and one shouldn’t underestimate the cost involved if one actually wants to listen to music the way it is/was supposed to be heard. So, I bought myself a good class-A Marantz amp, Dynaudio floor speakers with quite a hefty price tag and some pretty expensive audio cables to make sure the sound isn’t ruined travelling from point A to point B. I even have a good radio, although with today’s compressed streams, it was probably a waste of money.

So, what my books used to give me, I now mostly get from my music sessions. A break in my 14- to 16-hour workdays, listening to, for example, the Bill Evans Trio developing a tune in a live setting … and that on a stereo that can actually transport me there and, if only for a limited time, allows me to completely immerse myself and forget about my surroundings.

Escapism?
Certainly.

On the downside one all too often becomes aware of the fact that for all the money invested, one could probably have spent more than a year in some exclusive resort on the Maldives.

Such is life.

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. Came across your website via a digg link. Beautiful and functional web design. You should congradulated. I have 11,000 tunes so I understand the passion completely. All the best.

    Mark

    Reply

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