The Vinyl Age
Well, it may not be that bad but an innocent love of jazz has made me buy records that cost hundreds of dollars. I need to understand why I do this and will I ever stop. My friends are the same way so they're no help. So I spoke with my suppliers to see what they have to say.
Mike Davis began collecting vinyl when he was 15 in the '70s and now runs Academy Records. He understands. "They're more fun to own. You get to own an object...have some sort of relationship to it." I own lots of objects but none thrill me like new records. "Its hard for me to look at a CD as anything else but a plastic medium of digitally encoded music," says Davis.
Fred Cohen began a lifelong love of jazz when he heard Mingus at age 12 or 13. Now he is owner of the twenty-year old Jazz Record Center. "The death of vinyl was resisted simply by people who didn't want to be told what to do." He makes me feel like a rebel.
And Michael Klausman, manager/used LP buyer for Other Music turns my habit into something mystical: "It's part of a collector culture in which you want to have this library of beautiful interesting strange things. It's like your personal museum."
Luckily, I'm not alone (though when someone else grabs for the same record I wish I were). Cohen has seen it. "Most of the collectors I know, the serious high end collectors have friends that collect. They don't do it isolation. They create this little group where they trade off stories and show off the records to each other. It becomes kind of like an ego thing." I've never done that, no, never.
Okay, so maybe it is an ego thing but you have to spend your money on something, right? Why not CDs? For one $100 record, I can get 10 or 11 CDs. There's got to be some status in that. Sure, that's lots more music but for a something so full of history, this piece of vinyl connects me to it. Says Davis: "This record was around back then when these people were playing this music. This record existed when this music was new and happening." I feel for Klausman though, who began buying LPs because they were cheap and then found that "my tastes became more specific, started wanting more rare and obscure things and now I'm spending more on records than a CD would ever cost. It becomes sort of a compulsion."
It seems obvious when I think in terms of supply and demand. Most rare records have more people looking than finding. It also doesn't help that now 20-year-olds are competing with 60-year-olds. Davis explains that "previously the really high end record market...was pretty small. Relatively few people were willing to spend that kind of money for records, relatively few people knew those records were worth that and had them to sell. That whole scene has been exposed to the public a little bit more."
Well, where does that leave me? eBay is worse than any record store I've ever been in. Maybe a store will be a rip-off but that pales in comparison to when other record buyers, my brothers and sisters, gouge and snipe and overbid on an online auction. One lunatic can ruin it for everyone. Storeowners like Cohen, once the setters of a record's value are accosted by ""Oh but that record sold last week on eBay for $1800."
Cohen says he can get far more for selling a record in store than online. Davis thinks that he is lauded for a high price online but condemned for the same in his store. But they all agree with Klausman "I personally don't feel like eBay is reality. I refuse to take it that seriously...You can look at something like eBay and this record sold for $100 but I can put it up in the store for $100 and it will literally never sell."
Just like the small store that no one knows about where you can get great deals, the Internet has hipped me to stores in Lithuania, Argentina, and Japan. I'd like to think that my records will, as a collector friend likes to put it, "do some serious damage" if I ever sold them. But I see records get expensive, get cheap, seemingly without reason. But that's beside the point. Numerically, there is a difference between $50 and $150 but buying records is rarely about the money. I admit I feel sickness and hatred when I lose an auction or come five minutes too late to a store. On the other hand, stories about sealed private pressing records bought for 3 Canadian dollars are told as if I had knocked out Joe Frazier.
And maybe that is the answer. Collectors of records, like collectors of first edition books, or thimbles or bottle caps, are motivated by something not quantifiable by value. Cohen puts it well: "The reality of the situation is that if you bought it and you're happy with it that's what its worth to you." You may have nothing tangible at the end of a grueling day of work, but hours or days or years spent hunting down a record can be celebrated by holding it in your hands, admiring the cover art (something lost with the proliferation of CDs), and rubbing the grooves against your face. I know the last one is bad for the record but try it once. You'll love it.
Stores mentioned in this article:
77 East 10th Street
(between Third and Fourth Avenue), NY, NY 10003
Jazz Record Center
236 W. 26th Street, #804
(between Seventh and Eight Avenue), NY, NY 10001
15 E. 4th Street
(between Broadway and Lafayette), NY, NY 10003