As record collecting’s resurgence continues to grow, so does the sub-industry of proffering opinions about the phenomenon. Annual pro- and anti-Record Store Day think pieces seem to proliferate at a faster pace than vinyl sales themselves, the photo book Dust & Grooves is slated for a third printing this summer, and documentary films on the vinyl collecting hobby are growing in number, as well. That micro-genre’s 21st Century godfather is 2000’s Vinyl, noteworthy for predating the vinyl renaissance by several years, also noteworthy for painting a dismal picture of record collectors as sad old men who, having failed to connect with human beings in their pitiable lives, turn to hoarding media to fill an emotional gap or grasp at a sense of purpose. I frankly and flatly reject the implication that a love of collecting music lumps one in with doleful and socially isolated alterkakers who need suicide watch more than they need turntables. In mitigation, Atom Egoyan and Harvey Pekar are among the collectors interviewed, and that’s damn cool. Watch it here, if you like.
A more recent offering, 2008’s I Need That Record! offers a view of the obsession from a different sociological perspective, looking at the thinning of ranks in indie record stores (that retail niche has obviously rebounded since), seeking input from indie-famous crate diggers like Ian MacKaye and Thurston Moore, with a helping of righteous corporation-slapping from Noam Chomsky. And it offers a much more upbeat view of the collector.
And there is a new contender: Riot House has released musician Jason Blackmore’s (Sirhan Sirhan, Molly McGuire) hour-long Records Collecting Dust, which asks a laundry list of punk and indie luminaries questions like “what was the first record you bought?” “What was the last record you bought?” “If there was a gun to your head and you had to pare your collection down to five albums, what would they be?” It’s a really fun watch, and not just for the trainspotting. It’s a gas to see Keith Morris extol the virtues of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to see Jello Biafra wax rhapsodic about Space Ritual, Mike Watt raving about American Woman, and David Yow talking about baffling his teacher and fellow schoolkids when he brought the Beatles’ trippy, bluesy b-side “For You Blue” to show and tell. One truly wonderful sequence joins Rocket From the Crypt/Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes guitarist John “Speedo” Reis in showing off his favorite children’s LPs on a toy turntable, and there’s even a segment with Dangerous Minds’ own Howie Pyro. I always enjoy tales of musical discovery, all the more so when they’re told by people who’ve made the music that warped me, and Records Collecting Dust is FULL of that, plus live performances by Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine, the Locust, and Big Business.
Though enjoyable, the film has its imperfections. It suffers from an abiding and ultimately irritating L.A.-centrism. I’d love to hear more tales of life-changing finds from people who hail from more culturally isolated areas, and so couldn’t just go to someplace like Wherehouse or Licorice Pizza whenever they felt like it, and had to really work for their scores. One other thing screamed out at me, though it’s not a flaw in the film as such, but more a consequence of the hobby’s demographic: the levels of vinyl-stockpiling depicted seem overwhelmingly to be a male phenomenon, so out of 36 interviewees listed in the credits, exactly two women appear, namely former Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler, and Frontier Records’ Lisa Fancher. Roessler makes one of the funniest observations in the whole doc when she describes how record stores magically cause men to shop in a manner stereotypically associated with women.
Another of the film’s truly brilliant moments is this fabulous sermon from Jello Biafra, which I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing in its entirety, because I 100% agree with every damn word of it:
I think part of the magic that vinyl, and records, and blundering into cool music you never knew existed still holds for me. I’m still a fan, and keep in mind “fan” comes from the word “fanatic.” I love to keep exploring, and even though I’ve got way too many records, I never buy one unless I intend to listen to it when I get home—I don’t always have time to listen to ‘em all now, but that’s the idea. I don’t buy it to scam or speculate, I buy it to listen to it. And there, that way, I never run out of cool music to listen to. I have no patience for these people who say “Oh, the whole scene died when Darby Crash died,” or “yeah, there’s no good bands anymore.” WROOOOOONG. Good sounds are where you find it so start looking, OK? Don’t be afraid to blunder into something cool. You never know what it might do to your life, or even your own music, or your band may finally start sounding different from all the other bands you like.
Records Collecting Dust began screening in California this month. Remaining showings though March are listed on its web page . If you’re on the fence about checking it out, perhaps these trailers will help nudge you one way or the other.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘The Color of Noise’: the Amphetamine Reptile Records story