Shelf Life

00:19, Feb 15 2016

A friend visited last week - in town for that Webstock caper. We only catch up once a year or so these days, but as with all of the people I've stayed in touch with since school, half our lives ago, we make up for lost time instantly. There's no awkwardness. We're mostly aware of what everyone has been up to and if not we have no trouble asking - we're very different people from who we were trying to be then. But at the same time, not all that different at all...

Anyway, this particular friend who I will refer to here as Ross - since that's his name - was horrified that my record collection was in no order at all. 

I like that kind of chaos. I like not knowing exactly where my favourite albums are - I get to discover new favourites on the way to finding the old staples; if I had them all arranged I might only play the same old things. And a few brand new purchases. Everything else would be there to bolster numbers. That's the way I've figured it.

Once - when I had a huge CD collection - I had it alphabetised, I even had a list on the computer; that fell away pretty quickly, couldn't quite keep up with that list. When I started trading CDs (and losing them as the loans-system grew looser) it was too hard to keep the list up to date, so I abandoned it altogether.

And then iTunes became the new ordering system. When I bought my first iPod it was such an event - planned down to the day. It cost something close to $800 and I did a series of St. Patrick's Day shows with the Irish band to pay for it. After a long weekend away, slogging it hard to earn the cash I returned, like a tinny-house operator, hiffing down a wad of twenties in exchange for the portable music collection. In the months leading up to that purchase I was loading up nearly every album I owned - iTunes the new cataloguing system, I was forced to fit in with a new version of alphabetical order. Previously bands would go under the first name's first letter but solo artists, like authors, were found by surname.

You could play with the settings if you wanted to stick to that rule - but slowly, surely, people learned a new (incorrect) way to alphabetise and, like almost everyone else, I just went with it. Joined the club.

All the while the records were always in no order at all.

It's always been the way for me. Listening to records has always been a bit of an escape for me. At one point I was sneaking into the lounge at home to check out mum and dad's collection. When I started buying LPs myself I was as interested in the cover artwork and packaging as the music. Well, in some cases.

And then as a reviewer the chance to listen to records brought with it a break from writing about music, from having CDs (and then files) to carry about like homework. Okay, then I ruined that by finding some weird way to catalogue the records in writing.

Sitting down with a record on, whether reading, relaxing or writing about anything else other than the music that is playing - that's the aim with the record collection. And that's why it's never had any sort of order.

When I have to go and find particular albums I get lost - and those are happy distractions. Far more rewarding than most of the wormholes we fall down when online searching for...anything (and apparently everything).

I've been on a Midnight Oil kick lately, so have been gathering up some of my LPs by that band - in finding them I've found all sorts of other things I want to listen to, from goth to jazz and several cheesy 80s movie soundtracks.

Same deal when I tried to gather all my Elvis Costello records for the time when I sat down to start his memoir (a book I still haven't read). I found heavy metal and classical and all sorts of other things. Some records I've flicked past for years suddenly stood out. I found the very best Tim Finn album ever - hiding inside the grooves of what is actually labelled a Manzanera album (I'd owned it for 20 years and never really, properly listened to it).

So I'm sticking with my lack of order - it's the same with books too.

Some people don't have books in their houses, and don't have any trace of their music collection). I prefer to not visit those houses. Even if I am walking into someone's house for the first time I'll gaze at the bookshelves, I'll find my way to where the music is - CDs, records, maybe even some tapes. I'll start looking through that stuff. I have to.

A strange sickness.

But it could be worse. 


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