I thought it would be a private relationship between me and my record player. Music collections, no matter what they are made of, can be so intimate they border on embarrassing. Not sure what to buy, I clicked on review after review, talking myself into and out of nearly every purchase. But the thing about a collection is you have to start collecting, and what I thought would be a solitary indulgence quickly became an absorbing bridge to new communities, new conversations and new weirdos.
My old records, dumped in a purge to shed an old skin and gain a new perspective, wasn't exactly a thoughtful curation. Its size, which may have looked impressive on the shelf, was mostly due to inheritance and not intention. Still, I probably should have held onto those early Cosby recordings or Mama's entire collection of Paul McCartney and the Wings. But sometimes you have to let go.
So my table sat empty of both record player and records, but the good intentions started producing an actual collection.
"I know you haven't gotten your player yet, but I thought of you," one of my closest said as she handed me the best of Stevie Wonder, Prince's Purple Rain and the soundtrack to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Dolly Parton beamed at me from the cover, Prince mischievously stared; I looked over the mini-collection of wax, a perfect gift, and I realized that a collection of gifts may more perfectly represent my sensibilities than a collection I could personally curate.
Next came a Judy Garland live recording. Solange. Donna Summer. A Hall & Oates record with a distinct cover, where I can only describe them as looking like very beautiful ladies. Herbie Hancock. Yoko Ono. And finally, a player.
The patchwork of your own musical taste revealed to you by the people who supposedly know you best is a strange and romantic exercise. As I read through the liners, and memorize the cover art or the hairdos I wonder if I would have picked the album for myself. And I quite like the image of friends and lovers moseying through record shelves untill an artist says, "Me, pick me! You have an inside joke about me!"
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I re-entered the club of Vinyl for the music, for the nights I can't sleep to be underscored by the chords and the whirring. For less instant gratification, for my own personal hunt. But I was elated to be reminded there was so much more to the cult.
An appealing and overlooked late-night weekend outing - and one we don't talk about enough - is a trip to the record store. Both Good Records and Bill's Records are open 'till midnight on Friday and Saturday and employees seem to be willing to look the other way when you are very obviously sneaking in a cocktail with you. I wouldn't recommend asking for permission, I suppose, but, you know, BYOB in a koozie or a thermos. That kind of thing.
It will be nearly empty, but the few people you run into will want to talk about music, will want to talk about how they collect. And they'll be willing to share with you their favorites. But you don't have to be in a record store to find new vinyl horizons. Dallas DJs' cravings for something more analog mean that this town's personal collections can color every part of your nightlife.
DJs Empty Cylinder (Nathan Johnson) and Chief Export's (Adam Buck) long-running Vinyl Fantasy night at Inwood Lounge put their crates right on the table. And while maybe you came there for one of the Lounge's notoriously stiff drinks, flipping through those records is an entertaining peek into their hearts and minds. So to at Wax Addicts, Lower Echelon's new monthly at Circuit 12 highlighting collections so far of JT Donaldson, Tony Schwa, DJ A1 and Sober and they have only just begun. Tape Mastah Steph and Wanz Dover, DJs whose crate-digging reputations precede them are both taking over nights at Crown & Harp this spring. The Vinyl fever is clearly catching. Recently, while he was behind the decks at a Centre party, I pick Tony Schwa's brain a bit regarding an upcoming crate-digging trip. His portable player is ready for a larger warehouse dig. He tells me what to expect. The characters he comes across, the men in headphones, sitting on the ground looking at every single album.
"Have we always been this way about records?" I wonder, thinking back to the collection in storage I blindly got rid of.
"Well, things are different now," another guest replies as he puts his phone away, "We want something to hold onto."
Late on a Tuesday night, I feel restless, but a bar isn't really what I am looking for. I grab a flask of bourbon and head up to Good Records. I follow two men and a very large Golden Shepard inside. I want the Toro Y Moi on vinyl. I have been in a funk and so I want something bright and poppy to listen to with my windows up. They don't have it. so the browsing, which is to say the fun, begins.
I see a gentleman holding the last of an MF Doom Collectors set that I visit when I am in the store. I offer him a swig off the flask and tell him I have had my eye on it as well. "Well, you aren't holding it," he jests.
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"I always pick it up. But I never buy it." I admit.
"Well, isn't that most of record shopping?"
Indeed it is. When I go to make my purchase the cashier says to me, "I see you put back the Sun Ra." I can't tell if he is disappointed in me or not, but let that be a lesson that the clerk knows all.
I stick the flask back in my purse and fish for my wallet, "Yeah, well. I will be back." As it turns out you build a record collection the same way you build anything; with a little whiskey and a little help from your friends.