Sunday, November 7, 2010

Family Tree

I’ve been buying - I don’t like the word “collecting” - records - vinyl, cassettes, 8-tracks(!), and CDs - for about 45 years now.  And if you do anything like this for long enough, you’re bound to amass quite a stack.
It’s now hovering at around 1,300, which is way more than what a normal people would have, but it is what I consider to be an eminently sane amount.  Any more than that is surely nuts.  Anything less hints at old fogeyism and out of touchness.  Yeah, my number is just right. 

But seriously, I'm not very proud of it.  These records seem less like and accomplishment and more like evidence of an obsession or that got totally out of hand.  At least drinkers throw away their empties.  I keep (but get to replay) my records.

Now 1,300 may say “collection” to you, but it's not.  The word “collection” has the aura of completeness about it.  And collectors tend to fill the gaps in what they’ve already gotten.  They have most of Neil Young’s albums, and plan on getting the rest.  I prefer to just get the ones I want.  The gaps I want to fill are of music genres I’d like to get to know better.  (I know, hooray for me! Right?)  So if I don’t have a lot of country music, I might try to find some that is both great and representative.

I do this for the selfish reason of wanting to enjoy more types of music than I currently do.  This broadening of my horizons might sound like a chore, but in the end, it enables me to enjoy that much more music.  A win, win, I say.  The other guy is busy getting “Landing on Water” but I’m getting what I hope will be George Jones’s best record.  The other guy has all of Neil Young’s albums.  I only have the good ones.

But that’s me.  And this semi-aimless wandering has, over the long haul, gotten me part way into a lot of types of music and a whole lot of great music, some of which I'd never hear if I hadn't wandered a bit.  So I rest my case.

But I sometimes pretend that my record library - another word I don’t like, but it will just have to do for now - is something pure, original and mine alone, built up slowly and methodically over the years.  A life’s work, if you will, to make up for the lack of an actual life.  But this is a load crap.  One’s music library rarely grows from scratch.  It branches off from one thing and may combine with another.  It’s more like a family tree.


First, there’s the library I was born into.  It was made up of lots and lots of Irish music.  Bridie Murphy, Paddy Noonan, and a lot more where they came from.  These records were pretty hard to take, especially with the British Invasion breaking out all around us.  A little easier on the ears were the Clancy Brothers, and individual songs like “The Patriot Game” - the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side”, and simply one of the greatest songs ever written.  At least these tunes had tunes, and energy.  Oh, and guitars.

In a previous post (link), I related how I struck the first blow against this monopoly, by dropping a stack of records on the floor.  It was the mid-sixties, and vinyl LPs were heavy, thick and brittle.  So just like that, I took out at least three of them, and all I got was a verbal reprimand.  Nothing personal, Mr. Noonan.  It was an accident.  I swear.

But there were some records from this time that we all loved, like “The Sound of Music”, which was played endlessly, and the “Bing Crosby Christmas” Album, which we’d play even in July.  I’ll even throw in a shout out to Larry Cunningham, whose record - the last of the great Irish albums - got a ton of plays even as this period was ending.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn:

One friend specialized in getting Beatles albums.  Another built up a nice stack of 45s.  But even after a lot of begging and pleading, we only managed to amass a couple of  singles that never played all the way through without skipping.  We didn’t get our first albums - “Revolver” and “Meet the Monkees” – until 1966. 
But that was a start.  There would be more Monkees and Beatles albums to come, and each birthday and Christmas brought with it at least another album.  After a few years, we had about fifty.

In 1974 or so, a neighbor decided to give me his old albums.  “About a thousand”, he said.  I was flabbergasted, and couldn't fathom where I'd put them all.  But alas, I was new to the world of adult bs, and he showed up with about forty of varying quality.  But there were some great ones in there, and we now had almost a hundred.

Things picked up considerably when we got part time  jobs.  We fell into a payday oriented buying routine, my brother specializing in the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, and all of those other bands from California, and me straying off to the odd corners of things.  By a weird coincidence, the country was celebrating its bicentennial right around when we were celebrating our 200th album. 

And by we, I mean me and my brother.  I wonder if we would have intermixed our records if we didn’t share a bedroom.  We sure didn’t intermix our two younger sister’s records.  One of them was at least in the ballpark musically, with Linda Rondstadt, but the other was dipping into disco, and the Beach Boys, which we were having none of at the time. 

My parents would fight back, and half heartedly get a Wolftones record here or there, but who was kidding whom?  The tide had turned and they knew it.


But then I moved out when I turned twenty two, and took “my” records with me.  Figuring out which ones belonged to whom was easier than I thought it would be.  It was kind of like figuring out who wrote which Lennon-McCartney song.  You kind of just know.

Roommates Mike, Bob and Tom each in turn brought their own records which occupied the same bookshelf, but were never intermixed with mine.  And when they left (they always leave, don’t they?) they took their records with them.

Then I got married.  And if I thought my sister’s taste in music was questionable, my wife’s had “irreconcilable differences” written all over it.  It took until several weeks after our honeymoon for me to break down and intermix them.  To be fair, she had a decent mix of records (they broadened my horizons just as much as I ever broadened hers) with only the occasional abomination (Bobby Sherman, Salsoul Orchestra).  Looking back, it’s hard to see what the big deal was, but at the time it was traumatic for me to be sliding ABBA next to the Allman Brothers.  But I’m a man of the people and did it.  Intermix accomplished!  That’s love for you.

When the kids came along, we’d get the occasional album for them.  Never actually kids music, per se.  More like “For Our Children”, an AIDS benefit album by various artists, which sort of slipped into our collection, but by rights it belonged to our daughter Theresa.

After that, Tess went her own way and ended up as a huge fan of Broadway music.  Along the way, she ran the pop music gamut from the Spice Girls to the Backstreet Boys.  I’ve not yet coveted anything from her collection.  Well, there is that Blink 182 record…

My son Michael’s taste in music is much closer to mine.  He’s always had his own CDs, though.  Until this year, when the lines got really blurry.  Michael turned my wife and I onto Vampire Weekend, and he was the one pushing to get "The Suburbs" by Arcade Fire.  And yet, he considers this latter record to be mine "because you turned us on to them”, rather than my wife’s, who drove all the way out to Best Buy to get it.

Autumn Leaves:

Now that my mother has moved out of her house, I’ve inherited the Irish music.  And you know what? It’s not half bad.  I might even intermix them with my records.....

And now I can’t help wondering who’ll get my albums when I’m gone.  I even have a list of names.  A list, but few illusions. 

There are plenty of records that my wife and I grew old together with, and I hope she cherishes them.  But I don’t think she’ll want all of them.  How is she going to handle that, I wonder?  Will it be like my clothes?  Will she hesitate to get rid of them out of loyalty or guilt?  What about the ones I loved and she hated?  Will she give away anything she knew I liked?  I guess I should tell her that she need only hold onto the ones she likes, and give the rest away.

I began to think about this at a ridiculously young age, and continued to develop the scenario as my life got more complicated.  And now I can imagine this big stack of records getting passed around from wife to kids, to siblings and friends until there was a much smaller (hopefully) pile left.  What would happen to them?  Would they end up at some garage sale?

That thought really bothers me, because I rarely bought records from garage sales.  My thinking at the time was, why buy an album from someone who didn’t want it anymore?  It wasn’t like shopping in a record store, whose owner could care less what I bought.  A garage sale record was one that someone consciously bought, listened to, and ultimately rejected.  How good could it be, I thought?  Now I know better. 

What a sad thought, that something so valuable to me – a small piece of my life, really - could end up on a shelf or in a box, ignored by everyone.  Hopefully, someone smarter or more open minded than me will find and enjoy those records, and add them to his or her family tree.

Ah, so what?  Dead leaves on the dirty ground, and no one else around.

New Growth:

I’ll always regret not enjoying music more with my parents.  Aside from Julie Andrews and Bing Crosby, they had theirs and we had ours.  Such was the generation gap at the time. 

My wife and kids do not share my exact taste in music but we do share many more enthusiasms than I ever did with my parents.  I'm very thankful for that.  And as much as I hope that my records will end up with the people who would like them the most, I also know that some of the stuff I love just won't resonate with them.  And it may never.

That's okay.  My kids can take it from there.  They've got their own music to listen to and their own trees to grow.

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