Sunday, 15 July 2012

What am I going to do with my record collection?

This week there was a conference in Oxford, led by Bill Clinton, addressing the likelihood of what we do as a planet when we start running out of stuff. 

The usual conclusions were made by the Resource 2012 Forum,  but one issue they didn't tackle to my knowledge is what we do with the all the stuff we already own. Shoes, shirts, books, powertools... the endless accumulation of things that as a 'consumer society' we have been convinced we really, really need. And of course as far as I am concerned, the key problem faced by gentleman of a certain age: all that vinyl; all those CDs. The record collection. 

Last weekend I spent a hugely enjoyable time with two old friends in Norfolk. Both are still working in the music business so when the inevitable subject arose of what to do with a lifetime's collection of albums, singles, CDs , box sets and other spoils of quite liking music, there were different suggestions:

"Spotify, mate," said Andy,"you don't want to bother with the physical product."
Michael and I both looked at him in horror. 
"But.. but... what about the artwork? The liner notes?"

The problem with really REALLY liking music is that it is a holistic experience. It's about the memories of going to the shop to buy the album, the smell of the vinyl, the shrinkrwrap coming off a new CD, the first flick through the booklet to discover fresh pictures and information. I realise I'm sounding like a serial killer here but hey, increasingly, it does feel like I'm going to have to keep my music collection in a dark, concealed celler. 

I hate the expression guilty pleasure but that's precisely what it is sometimes. I know I already have Quadrophenia but that doesn't stop me wanting to find a copy of the original on vinyl with those amazing Ethan Russell photographs (incidentally, if you didn't see the Quadrophenia documentary it is well worth looking at even for the most part time Who fan). I know it's not the greatest album in the world but I still want a copy of the Damned's Music For Pleasure on vinyl because Barney Bubbles' artwork is so fantastic. I already own the Impressions' Young Mod's Forgotten Story on CD but I still have an eBay watch out on an original vinyl version. 

Of course, you know I'm a huge lover of artwork because of the book from a couple of years ago The Art of The LP. And my new novel (which is out now, reading fans!)  features an updated version of Wire's Pink Flag sleeve from which it takes its name. 

But it's not just about artwork. I like to have liner notes, information so I can really immerse myself in the album. Often this can be disappointing like when the record company employs someone who can't spell or in some cases, even write. I shall be doing a separate blog about this so beware.

So what do I do with all these trophies after I've hunted and gathered them? Shelves. Space. Walls. Cupboards. I'm a reasonable person and I like to think I do things in sensible proportions but this is what it's come to:

Perhaps that's a familiar sight to some of you. All I know is that as my daughters get bigger and want space for their own stuff (and the Barbie army is beginning to compete with my Rock/Pop section in volume) something has to give.

What are the solutions? Andy would suggest ripping the remaining undigitised CDs, then selling the whole lot. I have been shedding some of the dusty unloved stuff I've hung on to for years but it doesn't seem to have made much difference. Perhaps he's right. Burn everything, sign up to Spotify and enjoy the cat swinging space. My mate Steve next door did this. He loves music probably more than I do but has not bought a CD for over two years without any perceptible side effects. Crucially though, he's not one for packaging. He has a fantastic vinyl collection (some of which I used for the above book) but from the spines you'd never know - collectively they look like an old carpet as a result of cat clawing: original Stones, Beatles and classic jazz all mauled by an overenthusiastic feline. Ouch. I'd be shelling out for extensive therapy but he's fine as long as the vinyl still plays. My problem was discovering music at the same time as artwork became exciting - punk 7"s pic sleeves and coloured vinyl - all that late seventies packaging thing. I'm a sucker for Malcolm Garrett as much as Pete Shelley. Packaging and music have always gone hand in hand. Witness my constant involvement with the artwork of the acts I signed. The marketing departments hated me.

Another option would be to get a second home. Ha! Ludicrous and though it sounds in such harsh economic conditions, there are people with second homes and some of them are still my friends. Their solution is to ship their extra 'stuff' out to these places. Not a bad solution particularly when it's books and DVDs that you don't feel so attached to emotionally and which can be enjoyed by those people who visit and rent the property. 

But of course, I don't have a second home so that one's out. Other solutions could be a boot sale, donate to charity or even use Music Magpie. The latter, a seductively simple online selling site, don't give you a great deal for CDs but they do take pretty much anything that has a bar code. Interestingly, the only things I haven't managed to force on them were Madonna and John Lennon whose barcodes gave me the chirpy response: "We're sorry we don't like this album. Try something else!" Christ, if it's not looking good for those two then what hope for No Parlez? Actually, the last time I sold to Music Magpie (in every sense of the word 'last') they claimed that two albums out of the batch of 20 or so had not arrived. Interestingly, those two albums had the highest value and would have netted me about £10. Eventually I found one of their staff on the phone and was given some high number of packages received excuse. They caved in the end but it was a hollow victory, frankly.

I really would like some suggestions though. I love my record collection - a sentence which I am fully aware sounds more and more old fashioned as every year passes. Where will it go? I have less and less time to listen to it and like all of us, find myself experiencing most things digitally while I sit typing this or on the iPhone while I ponder condiment choices in Sainsburys. And yet the joy of flicking through the new Dr Feelgood box set or reading about the history of Yellow Submarine in the CD booklet is still a pleasure I look forward to. 

Of course, switching to Spotify would certainly meet the approval of the gathered intellects at Resource 2012. Music is, after all, merely a vibration of air molecules that requires no storage other than the instruments on which to play it. You don't need forest-consuming booklets and oil-guzzling discs to enjoy it. Being an ace guitarist, Bill Clinton would know that. But I bet he still has a shelf full of 70s classics back home in Westchester County.


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