It’s never been easier, via the internet and the sharing/caring attitude of fans hooking up other fans, to get close to completing the set – that is to say collecting everything by your favourite artist.
But, as my uncle is fond of saying, “it’s a big thing when you look in to it”. I don’t really know a) what that means or b) why he says it or c) if it comes across as weird that I’m sharing this phrase void of any context (I’m not actually sure it has a context).
The more you seek the more you find, the more there is to find. Can you ever really complete the set? And do you really need to? Will you die trying?
I’ve heard of people with 300 Jimi Hendrix albums – stupid, given that some of them are just K-Tel reprints of reprints of rough recordings of bootlegs that were released under another name. That’s a person addicted to buying packaging.
The internet’s free reign and free range means that people are avoiding the ephemera for the actual music. It might be a poor-quality Mp3 version – but if it’s the original SMiLE sessions, that long-talked about famous Beach Boys album that never quite happened – is it worth it to hunt out some rarity? Or if you wait you’ll get the new ‘official’ version anyway, eh? That’s what happened with that particular album. That’s also part of what Record Store Day seems to be about: making money by finally offering the albums you thought you’d never find…
I haven’t hunted out any rare Randy Newman bootlegs or compilations but I do have all of his albums, all of the soundtracks that are available from before he went to Pixar (I have nothing against his Pixar work by the way, but it has just never interested me to collect that material) and I have enough of an overview with this great box-set also. I have (definitely) got Randy Newman covered.
But, weirdly, I have about 60 Bruce Springsteen albums – maybe more. I have some vinyl bootleg recordings and I have a load of files – as well as all the original/official albums.
I have these files because I know a couple of, well, there’s no other word for it, Springsteen-nutters. And I am interested enough in Springsteen to want to listen to some of his live performances and outtakes – particularly as Bruce is such a great live performer; a dynamic concert-draw; someone who improvises and interpolates all sorts of cover-versions and b-sides as well as rearranging some of his tried and true hits for the stage. So it makes sense to take in some of Bruce’s non-authorised/official material – you are going to get something different. It is not just new packaging.
But I’m far less of a Springsteen fan than my collection would suggest. The bootleg LPs I have of the Born In The USA and Tunnel Of Love and Ghost Of Tom Joad tours would suggest me to be some fanatic. I’m not trying to complete a Bruce Springsteen set. That would be far too big of a thing to look in to.
And I already have more than I will ever really get to know in this lifetime.
The first musician that I became obsessed with collecting was Lou Reed. But that was a different time. I had to work for it. The CDs were not regularly available – particularly since I lived in Hawke’s Bay at the time. I think I found New York there and that was about it. All of my Lou Reed albums were purchased during trips to Auckland – it was exciting to go to Marbecks or Real Groovy just to see if they might have something new. Albums that might have seemed disappointing on first listen, ultimately (say The Bells or Rock’n’Roll Heart) were lapped up just because they were indeed new to me. They were albums I had read about and heard about and there was no try-before-you-buy like there is now. I mean, sure, you could stand there with some headphones on near the counter. But there was no internet.
Now you can become an instant expert in an afternoon, YouTube and Wikipedia will tell you which Roxy Music albums you need first. There’s no need to dive in and try them all by buying them. You can go to Metacritic or whatever other site, you can borrow them from the library – you can visit blogs or downloading sites (both legal and otherwise, you can pay if you think that makes what you’re doing fully above-board, and never think about what the artist gets paid as a result, or you can not pay…) and you can sample or steal the music in the order you want it.
So with that in mind I turn back to my collection – thinking of artists I have worked hard to collect music by, artists like Miles Davis and Bob Dylan and Prince and John Coltrane and The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell and Sonic Youth and Bruce and Tom Waits and Ry Cooder and Fleetwood Mac and Brian Eno and anyone else I had named earlier. For me the thrill of the chase was often in the chase – and I just can’t get excited by instant access to an entire musical world now. I like that it exists, it’s certainly amazing that the (nearly) infinite options are at your fingertips (it’s handy for research) but ironically the ephemera tends to be what makes the collection.
I’m not saying that you need to have walls of CDs or LPs for it to mean more than a load of files and a couple of hard-drives. Not at all. But I have more reason to believe that the guy with 300 Hendrix albums has listened to far more of them, percentage-wise, than I ever will with regard to the Springsteen bootlegs I’ve been handed.
What makes a music collection? The music or the collecting? Isn’t it equal parts that tell the story? What things do you work hard to collect? How important is the notion of completing the set to you? Is there anyone that you will continue to collect until you stop collecting music? How do you view the idea of collecting the set?
It’s a big thing when you look into it. That is precisely why I started writing The Vinyl Countdown to explore my stories behind the music I have hung on to. And it’s a big part of what keeps me writing about music…though I’m often reviewing albums now straight from files, no album artwork beyond a JPEG, no tactile experience…
And downloading is old-school to a lot of people now right? Just stream…just stream…just listen to it on your phone. That stereo you bought and kept is now a waste of time too apparently. Unless you don’t think so at all.