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Music Collecting #1
By Mick Polich - 01/20/2009 - 07:57 AM EST

Music collecting – a by-gone era that’s gone underground for decades now: crate digging for LP’s, cassettes, and CD’s of often long- lost and obscure artists and compilations.

Reason I bring this up is that my interest was recently piqued again by two elements at play: my subscription to “Wax Poetics”, a great ‘zine devoted to old – school funk, hip hop, jazz, and DJ’ing (amongst other interests), and the semi – recent Le Bron James/Nike commercial with a great, old – school number from the ‘90’s remixer/artist collection called Cornershop, with their great funky number called “ Candyman”. I had forgotten how fun the mid to late 1990’s DJ remix school stuff was – sampling was in the forefront, laws were getting figured out on how to pay artists (James Brown is still making serious coin from that legal – ese …….), and technology was making remixing and the cut-and-paste collection of sounds easier ( and more affordable) than ever. We’re probably 10 years out of the woods from that era, and good ol’ LeBron brings tha funk and fun back to the b-ball court via the soundtrack to a shoe commercial – coolness, kidlets!!

I’ve probably sold, or given away, several collections of recorded music on vinyl, tape, and CD’s since I started back in the early 1970’s. I went thru a ‘bootleg’ collection phase, going to record shows, and buying stuff by Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Richard Thompson, and Neil Young. I still remember the Saturday afternoon spent with a guy who saw my ad for bootleg Hendrix stuff in the long-lamented, but not forgotten Iowa weekly, The Daily Planet – I bought a few recordings from him that eventually made it to disc thru several record labels, then in the hands of the Hendrix estate. Live stuff, obscure studio out-takes – big fun, because it was getting a hold of some rare gem, a sometimes forbidden sonic landscape to roll over ( bootlegs ain’t exactly legal, unless you’re the Grateful Dead, and encourage ‘tapers’ at shows….), but hearing material in raw, embryonic form that quite possibly you and a few others were in the ‘secret sound club’, privy to it’s special delights, that was pretty cool. Now, of course, You Tube and downloads makes the ‘secret club’ not-so-secret any more, but this sort of collecting had some neat beginnings, and such things progress as art and technology go merrily hand in hand.

Once music collecting is in your blood, it’s damn hard to stop the party. I have told of my earliest forays, sneaking stuff past my dad and stepmom back in the day, or taping cassettes of live concerts, radio shows, and Top 40 hits off my trusty Craig boombox as FM radio enjoyed it’s hey day (and later incarnations in college radio stations). Now, my wife, son, and dog get to put up with my growing collection (which will probably get filtered out and weeded down AGAIN at some point). But, having a sound library works for my friends, and especially my music students – I can still hip people up to groups and recordings they may not have heard (hey, the ‘Net is all-accessible, but SOMEONE has to filter thru it to find out what’s what!). It’s all fun, and I enjoy giving back – part of the plan (at least, my plan).

Music collecting changes tastes as you get older, too – of course, people expect boomers to listen to ‘type’, so to speak – hits over at least three decades. That’s fine - I’ve played a lot of that stuff in various bands, so unless it’s something I really want to explore, say, the “Band On The Run” re-issue by Wings for example, I would rather seek out what’s new and undiscovered out there in our little rapidly spinning mudball. World music has become very accessible in the past 20 years, and personally, I’d rather hear some songs by a Croatian surf punk band (which there IS such a group) rather than Wham!’s greatest hits. It’s a matter of taste, and I think most tastes change over time, so your collecting follows suit.

Another cool aspect of music collecting is the fact that you can jump eras, jump genres, and jump artists – it’s wide open. Over the holiday break, I downloaded the Five Royales greatest hits and an album of cut-and-paste sonic adventures from avant garde/jazz –rock-world dude David Torn on the same day, at the same sitting. Hey, I make no apologies – I enjoy it all…….

Storage is a big item – of course, the obvious with the digital age here is,” Hey dude, just store your s#%t in the computer!” Well, ’dude’, I do store some tune arrays on my Dell, but I have amassed a pretty sizable CD collection, with leftover vinyl and cassettes taking up the slack. Yes, I’m holding out for several reasons: artwork, linear notes, things that add to the enhancement of the music that I’m going to enjoy. Again, a retort: “Man, you can DOWNLOAD all that!” Yes, yes, Junior, I know, but as I stated many article moons ago, I’m still a pulp-and-print guy – I like to hold stuff in my hand as I ponder, enjoy, and connect to the artistic statement. Some stuff, though, I will download, and assemble for CD transfer, and that’s the last word on it. I’m not too worried about the archaic nature of what I do or don’t do – to be selfish, isn’t it about how I feel about the experience thru music in the end run anyway? Yep kids, the Self – Absorption Age is still alive and well!

Collecting something is personal, obsessive, time – involved, and well, fun ( and why shouldn’t it be?). You start, and you just do it. I think most people fall into collecting items, and music people know pretty much early on if they are on their life’s journey to amass the Library Of Congress in their home. And just when you think you’re done…..goodnight, nurse, there’s ANOTHER CD, cassette, or vinyl slab to go after!

Cassettes really started the boom years of collecting, legally and thus. Think about it: small, compact storage devices that you could record some concert, show, session, etc., in an INSTANT, then slip the storage thing into your pocket until you got home. Reel-to-reels, too cumbersome, 8 track tapes….what??! Are you kidding me?? The cassette recording boom coincided with the rise of the rock-concert-as-holy-tribal-experience at the right time – sneak a small, portable recorder into a concert, and… ZOOTA! You’vc just undermined the Man, and gotten your fav-o-rite artist all to your little o’ sef! Now, with digital field recorders, you can get better, cleaner, clearer sound with TONS o’ storage (See? Uncle Mick isn’t a COMPLETE dinosaur….). Again, many groups ENCOURAGE concert recording (i.e., the jamband crowd) – I stand witness to my own personal vestige regarding my wife’s Dead shows on cassette from the long ago, dusty artificial 1980’s.

If you’re a recording artist, then what about storage your OWN music? Well, I tell ya, that can get unwieldy – I’ve got 3 plastic bins in my garage, suffering the heat of the Texas summers, of studio masters, home studio recordings, and live venue offerings to attest to that. Unfortunately, that’s about the only place those bins can go at this time, but it’s history, and many people and places were involved in the making of all that music. And guess what? It ain’t over until it’s over, so my own recordings are a w.i.p. (work-in-progress).

I think the reasons behind collecting and archiving music are complex  - you’ve got to have a desire to be a bit of an archivist, a preservationist of history - be it your own, or say, David Bowie’s. There are pack-rat tendencies there also – horde, and catalog, and place some order to recorded music that no one would give two hoots about in ordinary settings. You’ve also have to be a bit mad because, really, this is a hobby, vocation, and mission that NEVER ENDS UNTIL YOU SAY SO (shades of “Animal House”!)! Even in the poorest of economic times, people find ways to keep collecting – it’s a shift in business policies to keep the gig a – goin’.

Downloading has opened up the floodgates on collecting – you can discover a lot of great stuff out there in Cyberland by just taking a chance and being curious (of course, there’s a lot of b.s. also…). Besides the new stuff, I’m re-discovering some long lost gems even on iTunes – obscure jazz I thought was out of print, a lot of small label funk and soul that I vaguely heard of back in the day (now, I can get it), and even experimental music that I don’t have to ‘stumble’ upon to get access to. Yeah, technology can be harnessed for the greater good….

Whatever styles of music you want to collect, you will find away to seek it out and get it. The one thing that gets to me is that I know is there are so many interesting groups and songs out in the world (even those that don’t make it in downloadable form), that I’m missing out on them. You gotta fly around to these places and experience the scene to get the music. I remember how ‘exotic’ it was to read about Jimmy Page and Robert Plant going to Morocco and Kashmir to write and record songs for Led Zeppelin (hell, I couldn’t do it, but I could live vicariously through those dudes when I was 15….). Everybody gets ‘polarized’ to a degree – living where they live and experiencing music as such in a bubble. Even though moving has been hard, I will be forever grateful that I got exposed to local radio and music scenes from Columbus, Atlanta, and now north Texas. Hey, there’s still plenty of exploring left, pilgrims!

There are still places to go ‘old school’ in music collecting around the world – the old formats haven’t left us entirely, they’ve just gone underground. Here in the DFW Metroplex, there is Forever Young, a long established record shop that still carries a lot of vinyl. A good web source to check for record shops is the Bloodshot Records site – you can search for shops by state, then city. There’s some detective work involved, but you can find ‘em….

Music collecting is a preservationist hobby that I find fascinating – somewhere, somehow, somebody is gonna have some music that will blow you away. It’s part of the process -  a sense of cultural history that shows us our past while aiming towards the future. And the dangedest thing is, it never, ever stops – save your sheckels, chillen!

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