chicago Editorials

Why Record Collecting Changed My Life (Editorial)

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I’m obsessed with collecting vinyl records. I’ll be the first to say it. It runs deeper than just enjoying the music, and if you look up the psychological association with collecting, and especially collecting vinyl, CD’s or cassettes, you’ll see it has a lot to do with trauma, anxiety, depression, and your childhood. A record collector can choose what they buy, what they focus on collecting. A record collector enjoys organizing and re-organizing their records, buying new sleeves, cleaning them, and sometimes even playing them. There is control. And most importantly, the bigger and better your collection, the better you feel about yourself.

I’ve watched the documentary VINYL by Alan Zweig over 10 times now. I’ve watched the additional directors cut about the same amount. It was made almost 20 years ago, but it was the first documentary that focused on why people collect records. The film did not focus on the music these individuals collected, it focused on their lives, who they were as people, and how collecting has impacted both.

Many of the people interviewed did not understand why he was asking about their past. They wanted to talk about the actual music, the albums they most enjoyed, the genres they focused on, and so forth. But Alan didn’t. At first, it was about the people he interviewed, but soon enough Alan chronicled his own life. He spoke at length about his desire to have a family, to have a wife, to live a life that he felt he was supposed to have. He attributed his ‘failures’ in life to how many records he had, and how collecting was the focus of his life. He bravely recorded his thoughts and shared intimate details. Alan talked about the mice that started to infest his house, the death of his dog, his Christmas’ alone, wishing his answering machine came from someone other than his mother. How, while filming, he bought more records than at any other point in his life.

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It was the combination of his story with the unique stories of other record collectors that had me hooked and continues to. The more I watched it, the more I related to Alan and the better I felt about myself while getting to know the interviewees. These people were crazy, I’d say. Their rooms are a mess, they have no life, they were divorced and lonely. Then I asked myself – why did I relate? What made me watch this hour-plus documentary over and over again? It was because little pieces of every collector made up who I was, who I am, and what I experienced growing up.

The best part of VINYL, for me, is an interview with a man who spends about 5 minutes answering a question from Alan. He asks – ‘I know you spoke somewhat facetiously that your friends have died because they collect records. What do you mean by that?

The man spoke steadily, intelligently, and confidently He said collecting records has a strong tie to your childhood, and more so, to abuse. The man said that throughout his childhood his parents told him he was a burden. Obviously, this is a very general statement, and who knows what he went through in full. But the way he spoke, I knew he was addressing how it affected him to this day. He spoke deliberately, his eyes blank, beginning to revisit what happened to him all those years ago. I knew that look. I knew what was happening in his head as he contributed greatly to the documentary, sacrificing himself and his sanity to help others that might feel the same.

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Questlove & his record collection

I wish I knew him. I wish I at least knew his name. But he was anonymous in the documentary, as was everyone else. In a very sick way, I also enjoyed looking at their records, even in the background. I liked seeing how many were stacked up in their rooms Every time I watch it, I want more records. I revisit myself every time I watch VINYL. I feel understood, I feel loved, and I feel better about myself. By the end, I remember I am them. And every month I sacrifice myself to buy records.

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