It was Fourth of July weekend in Austin, 2011, the near-constant pop-tat-tat-tat-pop of fireworks in my neighborhood no doubt masking the sound of my driver's side window being smashed. I had just moved into a new place, and my backseat and trunk were full of CDs that I had no room for, physically or mentally. This was a particularly low point in my life.
The day after, I surveyed the scene, a pool of blue glass baking in the summer sun. I did a mental loss report: 100 or so CDs, but nothing else. I was numb for a few days, then felt a surprising emotion: Relief.
See also: - How to start a record collection, part one
I started to do mental inventory of what was taken, but it was impossible. Instead, over the next year, whenever I went to look for a CD I wanted to listen to and couldn't find, there was this surreal thought process that occurred. I wondered what the person who robbed me of my burned Slugfuckers CD, or my Journey box set, was doing. What did they look like? Where did they hang out? Were they enjoying the three promo copies of Bob Schneider's 2009 Christmas album I felt compelled to keep?
(Slugfuckers were pretty great though. I was bummed about that one.)
I have a few guesses, but who knows where my memories ended up. Over 10 years of collecting and writing about music, organizing had become a Sisyphean task, and as I moved over the years, I became less and less concerned with pushing it all up the hill. As we get older, we have to shed a few of those mortal coils. How should we feel when it is done for us?
As I sat in my living room one night a couple weeks ago, ready to finally take inventory, I was surprisingly emotional. It might be a byproduct of my decision to take leave of music writing after a decade-plus of making it my first love, to the detriment of a few personal and romantic relationships. But no, it's probably something else.
As a collector -- and I am not a completist by any means -- I take pride in what I've amassed over the years. Some of it serves a purpose; it's a mental bookmark. We can look at an album cover and be blindsided by a memory, or put on an album we haven't visited in years, and fall immediately back in step with it.
Back in September, our Overserved columnist Deb Doing Dallas wrote her version of re-starting a record collection. This paragraph in particular hit me square:
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In 2005, I moved into a real house in another city. That broken record player sat in storage. I had the friends and the lover. I had the perfect place to set it. I had lazy Sundays to listen to albums I purchased based solely on artwork. But I didn't. And eventually the home became a prison, the lover became a stranger, and there was no Sunday afternoon that deserved digging the thing out and repairing it. And, like the house, lover and even some of the friends, I finally let it go.
Maybe I was in mourning, in some sort of limbo where I couldn't, or didn't want to, start collecting again. A few stacks of CDs (and a small stack of vinyl and 7-inches) are now my physical cloud, and I am at peace with that. Sometimes we just have to let it go.
Is our collection a shared truth? What does it represent? Do we need the physical proof as some sort of existential reminder that we live, are discerning, are nostalgic, can be moved? This past year, I've also been without a record player, and therefore haven't been buying records for the most part. I've completely immersed myself in digital music and its many dimly-lit online alleyways. Though convenient and immediate, I still felt the longing for that old friend, for the tactile process of sorting through music.
Earlier this week, I bought a record player, the one I could say was all mine, not a roommate's or lover's or friend's. As I sit, organizing all these thoughts, I am listening to Harry Nilsson's A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, and hearing the sound of an orchestra on a record player, all those sad strings accompanying Nilsson's sad voice, I'm realizing I am no longer concerned with what is lost. I'm now wondering what I've missed.