My name is John and I collect records. Don’t laugh.
Like all nerds and people obsessed by things, record collectors attract a lot of sneering from people who perhaps like to think of themselves as more cool. But to me, there’s nothing cool about not having a love of something. Our passions are what make life worth living.
And anyway, record collectors are not all one thing. There are lots of different types. I like to think I’m on the slightly less obsessive side – but then most collectors probably think that whilst simultaneously spending five hours looking through dusty old boxes of records in junk shops to the astonishment of the outside world. I’m not one for obsessing about matrix numbers on Beatles records, or identifying first pressings that came out of a specific pressing plant. Those people are out there, and fair play to them, but it ain’t me.
For me, records are still largely about the music. I say largely because there are two unacknowledged and misunderstood aspects to being a collector. Firstly, ownership. Ownership of records, even if you never play them, is comforting. In the choppy seas of life, they are a life raft to cling onto. People come and go, but the records are always there, consistent and true, Secondly, they offer potential. You can never play them all, but potentially any record can be the next one you hear. I like that choice. It feels like you’re painting the picture of your life with a much wider palette of colours.
These are, of course, very metaphysical feelings, based in the psyche as much as the ears. I don’t know where it comes from really. I’ve always collected things. Back when I was a kid I would collect bubblegum cards of the Beatles and the Monkees. I’d collect PG Tips tea cards and religiously stick them into the booklet that you had to send off for. I also collected football stickers of players. I collected badges and comics and football programmes for a while too, but all before I got the vinyl bug. By age 13 that kicked in and drowned out everything else. But it seems as though the urge to collect has been in me from an early age, so it must be part of my psychological make-up.
A side-effect of being a collector is that it automatically inculcates you into a loosely affiliated, slightly dissolute club of people in your area. You soon get to know other record shop and record fair regulars. You get to know your dealers and fellow enthusiasts and like any club, it’s nice to belong to something. Record people are an interesting lot too. Yes, to the outside world they sometimes seem a bit odd, largely because they are, counting a few semi-dysfunctional, unwashed, psychotics who have never known the loving hand of a woman, in their number, but that just add to the colour of the culture of collecting.
As a writer, it’s also a great source of inspiration for characters. Not for no reason is Jeff, one of the main characters in my novels, a secondhand record shop owner and my protagonist, Nick Guymer, a vinyl collector.
The leap of joy in the heart as you find a record you’ve wanted for ages, remains undiminished. Records, to me, are art, history, culture and, of course, music, all rolled into one beautiful item. They all have their own history, their own story to tell, their own route through life. Sometimes they arrive with an ex-owners name and address written on. It has been a silent witness to their lives. It’s impossibly tempting not to look up the address on Google Earth, look at the house and wonder what the vinyl was silent witness too within those walls.
See, this is how and why vinyl records provoke the imagination and it’s why I can’t imagine not being a collector now. If you feel likewise, this will all sound like familiar common-sense, if you’re not, maybe you’re missing out. We might get laughed at, but records keep us happy, or at least, offer balm to soothe our troubled soul. What more can you ask than that?