A Life Collected

As you get older, you start to look around at things that you’ve accumulated and they tend to take on a deeper meaning, both monetary and sentimental in nature.  I’m going through that right now, I guess turning 40 will do that.  Instead of buying, it’s about investing.  Instead of owning, it’s about preserving.  Instead of appreciating, it’s about cherishing.  That’s definitely not the mindset that I had when I started collecting as a kid.  First it was baseball cards.  Baseball cards were a big deal to me as a kid, but they were difficult to collect.  Like everything else that one gets involved in collecting, building a serious and well curated collection involves a monetary commitment that is difficult to make on a child’s allowance.  My baseball card collecting days came to an end when I stole a Darryl Strawberry rookie card from one of my friends out of jealousy and had to do chores to earn money to replace it.  It was such a dumb thing to do.  When i swiped it from him, I got scared and didn’t know what to do with the card, so i put it in my pocket.  You can guess what the outcome of THAT was.  Baseball cards don’t depend on sharp corners and vivid (unblemished) pictures to retain their value.  Needless to say, that was probably the fastest mint condition to worthless deterioration in history.  I’m still shaking my head about it thirty years later.

One last thing about baseball cards.  My dad also collected baseball cards as a kid.  I was fascinated by the idea of inheriting his collection.  Unfortunately it had been left with my Grandma and one of my Uncles ended up taking it.  I used to be pretty disappointed about that, but looking back, I’m glad it stayed out of my hands.

As a teenager, I moved on from baseball cards and started getting interested in music and cars.  I collected issues of Hot VW’s and Hot Rod magazine.  I always kept them organized chronologically and tried to always keep them in good condition.  I never REALLY pursued magazine collecting, but I always liked the idea of it.  Just never got sucked in.  I’ve revisited that interest as an adult, but never with any level of commitment.  Probably for the best.

When TEN by Pearl Jam was released in 1991, I was 12 years old.  I bought ten on tape from Wal-Mart.  I look back at that purchase as the beginning of my 28 years and counting of collecting music.  As an adult, I’ve collected everything from DVDs and CDs, to antique radios, books and art.  I’ve sold some things throughout the years as well.  When I was young and irresponsible, I sold records for quick money, not knowing how much I would regret it later.  I regret it still to this day.  Mostly though, I’ve bought things.  I’ve always tried to be a discerning collector though.  I don’t just accumulate to accumulate.  I care about what I buy and I try to curate my “collection”.  I know that’s kind of like an alcoholic saying that they’re not an alcoholic because they drink expensive alcohol, but it is what it is.  At least collecting has been a vice that I’ve been able to control and it’s brought a lot of joy and comfort to my life.

I started collecting records after I graduated from high school.  I stayed home my first year of college and worked at a pizza place called Greek Tony’s.  The restaurant was owned by the family of a kid I grew up with.  He lived in the neighborhood next to mine and we were in the same grade.  His father coached little league baseball when I played and was a big part of the community.  To say that pizza joints attract a certain style of employee is a pretty big understatement.  The owner of the joint where I worked was very open-minded and welcoming to all manner of kids, a lot of them troubled and interested in/exploring a more alternative lifestyle.  I ran into the owner one day at the grocery store and asked him if he was hiring.  He told me when to show up and the rest was history.  I met a lot of great kids while working there.  I was introduced to many things, both good and bad.  I felt a kinship to the core group who worked with me there for those years, because we were all looking for something different.  On night in the alley behind the restaurant, I heard a tape of a band that a couple of the guys were in.  That band was called Rapport and they were a Powerviolence band.  Powerviolence is a micro genre that started in the late 1980’s.  It was a crossover between hardcore punk, thrash metal and grind core.  The band Infest was the first of the generation of bands to move Powerviolence into its heyday in the 1990’s.  That night when I heard my friends band for the first time, my entire world opened up.  Powerviolence gave way to punk, thrash, grindcore, hardcore, crust, d-beat, metalcore, emo, etc.  There was a whole world that was operating underneath the surface that I never knew existed.  I was a little late to the party, but finally wherever I turned, I could relate to what I saw and heard.  In all honesty though, it wasn’t all a great awakening.  I met a lot of kids with very serious problems in those days.  I made a lot of bad decisions and things could have easily gone sideways for me, but luckily I made it through.  A lot of kids weren’t so lucky.

Just like trying to remember the first show that I went to, I can’t for the life of me remember the first record I bought.  My dad had a few records when I was a kid, but vinyl definitely wasn’t something that I had any knowledge of.  I worked with a kid at the pizza place who I would go record shopping with.  I remember that my first record player was one that I had found in the parking lot of Wall-Mart, next to the dumpster.  I took it home, cleaned it up and it actually still worked.

Thinking back, I must have bought my first record at one of the many record stores in Houston that still miraculously exist to this day.  It could have been at a show though.  I remember being instantly taken with the experience of buying a record. Vinyl is a very immersive medium.  Once I bought my first, I was hooked.  Just the act of going to the record store and feeling the records on my fingers as I flipped through the bins was amazing.  I was interested in art, so the covers and inserts and layouts were endlessly fascinating to me.  The level of creativity in the DIY punk community is unparalleled.  I’m still amazed to this day with what I see.  If you follow Mark McCoy and Youth Attack Records, you know what I mean.  I would take my stack of records home and look through each page of the booklets, reading the inserts from the record labels and letting the music transport me to another place.  During those years, if I had any money in my pocket, I was buying records. Collecting records was as much a personal discovery for me as it was an activity to build friendships and share experiences.  Those were years that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

After my first year of college at home, I ended up going to University of North Texas in Denton.  UNT has a prominent music department and the town has and still does have a thriving music scene.  Lots of talented kids means a lot of good music.  Riverboat Gamblers is one of the more prominent bands to emerge from the Denton music scene.  Anyways, I was going to school to study graphic design, but I rarely attended class.  I struggled a lot with depression and self-doubt while I was living there, so I spent a lot of time in my room, hanging out with similarly disaffected (lazy) college “students”, and buying records.  Denton had a small record store on Frye street and I spent a lot of time there exploring the bins.  I can’t remember the name of that store, but I remember how it felt to me.  It was like a warm blanket.  I was depressed and struggling with mental health issues, so while collecting records before had been a social activity, it now had become a solitary activity.  The records had become my friends and collecting them now brought me comfort and security.  I felt safe and confident in the record store.  Walking home with a bag of new vinyl to look through, knowing that I had found some gems during my visit, made me forget all of my troubles for a while.  There is definitely a high that comes with shopping (retail therapy), but sometimes it just has to be that way.  At least it wasn’t destructive.

After I moved home from college, I met my ex-wife and lost touch with my friends.  She was a different person and wasn’t a part of the world I was used to.  I had been smoking a lot of pot and ended up selling some of my records for money to buy more drugs.  My life had changed again and I had lost sight of how much all of those hours of looking and collecting had meant to me.  I did keep a large portion of my collection, but I had stopped collecting for the most part.  I always missed it though.

Once I decided to quit smoking pot get my life back together, I slowly began to regain my interest in collecting.  I had steady employment finally, but I didn’t have a partner who supported my interest in records, so I just did it here and there when I could.  However, when I got divorced, that all changed.

All of a sudden I was alone again for the first time in over ten years.  My marriage had been deteriorating for quite some time, so I had been emotionally alone, but now I was physically by myself.  I felt those same feelings again that I did back when I was in college.  Depression and loneliness are unmistakable, so I turned back to what I knew would bring me comfort.  I started collecting records again and I started enjoying it.  I started collecting and restoring old tube radios.  I started a collection of books and logged all of my records into the Discogs.com database.

One day someone asked me why I collected things so much.  I told them that I’ve done it for many different reasons throughout the years.  The more I think about it though, the more I realize that it’s really only for one reason.  I collect things that I know won’t ever leave me.  I collect things that I can look at and surround myself with, because they’re mine and I know that I can count on them to always be there to make me feel better.  Introverts are like that.  I’m not a hoarder though, because thankfully I have a fair amount of OCD, so I care about what I collect, and I’m willing to do hard work to add to my collections.  It’s all valuable to me, and if it’s not, I will let it go.

A week or so ago, I started a new Instagram page.  I was sitting at home and thinking back about that baseball card collection of my dad’s that I missed out on.  I got to thinking about my record collection and how I’ve always dreamed of having a son or daughter to pass it on to.  I’ve always dreamed about opening their minds to the world that made me who I am today.  I’ve always dreamed about them caring for it and adding to it like I have.  It may just be a dream, but it’s a dream that still makes me smile.  So I’m going through and opening up each and every one of my 1000+ records, reading the inserts and the booklets, looking at the art, cleaning the vinyl, listening to each song, photographing the art, replacing the sleeves and sealing them up for safe keeping.  It may seem silly to some of you to do all of that for a silly record, but it’s the least that I can do for all that they’ve done for me.

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