What is it about other people’s record collections that cause one to be so covetous? I take a look at my homies’ vinyl and think, “Damn, Oak Ridge Boys. Cool.” Shit, I’ve got every single Bruce Springsteen album from the ’70s and almost all the Neil Young from the same period, not to mention about two hundred other great records and several hundred pieces of shit that I don’t even listen to, many that I have never listened to, so why should I be so bent when I see that a friend has two copies of The Village People-Live and Sleazy and he won’t give me one? (Better yet, why the fuck won’t he? But that’s not the point.)
Does my envy simmer because at some time in the future, when I’m sitting around my apartment drunk by myself I’ll want to listen to some track from his 10cc-Greatest Hits that I can’t even remember exists when I’m sober? Not likely, but that’s the way I usually think. In fact, that’s why I own a copy of that stupid album: Every time I decide to give it away or put it in the trash or smash it against the turntable stand, I give it one last listen. And fuck if there isn’t always that one song that makes me want to keep it.
Maybe this attitude is brought on by the fact that I want to burn a mix CD right now, but I don’t have a copy of an old Conway Twitty song that’s probably on three out of five K-Tel country collections, any of which could be purchased at your finer neighborhood Value Village. But see, that’s the problem, I didn’t buy that 50 cent record when I had the chance, someone else did (that bastard friend of mine), and now I can’t make the CD because the whole fucking thing revolves around that one lynchpin song. Yeah, I can ask him to borrow it, but that’s a whole other mess. What if he’s on vacation? Or what if he can’t find it? Or what if the damn record is stored in some parental basement somewhere, as fully 35% of all records must be?
Funny thing is that all the songs you keep—on the Toto albums, the Culture Club, the awful Queen records that hold about as much interest as a Freddy Mercury moustache ride—they never are the right ones. So you buy more and more records until you’ve got a whole collection of garbage that takes up as much space as all the rest of your personal belongings and weighs at least as much as your car.
Ever try helping one of your friends move? Notice the uneasiness everyone has about moving anything in the room that has his record collection in it? “No way, dude, I’m not going near the records.” I’d rather help move a sofa or a fucking refrigerator than help move goddamn records. It’s usually worth it to move yourself, just to get out of helping someone with a big record collection relocate.
On a related tangent, ever see the stupid behavior that results when a friend is moving and he gives away some of his record collection? Yeah, it’s always total crap. What, you think someone’s just going to unhand a nice mint copy of Like A Virgin? No way. He will, however, almost be willing to pay you to make off with his studio Peter Frampton albums and pretty much anything released on Arista in the 1980s. But you don’t need a bribe. No, you will be more than willing to slug one of your best friends in the nose as the two of you fight over a copy of a live Thin Lizzy album, making good entertainment for the friend who’s trying to relieve himself of his plastic burden. It’s a momentary distraction from the fact that no matter how asinine his friends will behave in dividing up his lousy records, there’s always two or three stinkers that they all already have. An extra, scratched and unplayable copy of Thriller, with devil horns gouged into the album sleeve above M.J.’s head or something similar, a Paula Abdul or Judas Priest that would play just fine if you could stomach more than 15 seconds of the music.
Ever come across the record in someone else’s give-aways that you yourself dumped years ago? And discover that it’s the same damn copy of It’s Hard that you used to own, because it’s got your initials marked in that special place where you mark all your albums? And further realize that you absolutely have to have it back because your life has not been complete since you gave up the ability to listen to “Athena”?
If you get it, if you’re into records, I think you can see where I’m going with all this by now. Records are great. They are one of my favorite things on earth. We all know that they are better than CDs for all the reasons that Neil used to howl about and a hundred more, not the least of which is the tactile sensation of handling one and the care that must go into owning one, but especially the beauty in the design of the album covers, done on a scale to which no crummy little jewel box will ever compare. And though CDs may have a small size and weight advantage, a durability advantage, a portability advantage over records, all these were the same advantages of cassettes, never enough to cause anyone to wax nostalgic over metal oxide. Part of the joy of records is certainly the insanity of being a record owner, all the strange behavior that we exhibit that we just don’t for any other form of recorded music. It’s a great feeling to be a record junkie, even if we freely buy CDs and tapes or even listen to mp3s.
But it’s time to face the reality that records are no longer really sufficient for keeping the bulk of our music collections. Unfortunately, that in itself is probably one of the things that makes records so precious, their inherent stupidity and eternal obsolescence. And just because I’ve now gone digital and forego listening to my stereo for my computer (let’s hope that this computer thing turns out better for me than Trans for Neil), surely I’m not going to get rid of my records just yet. At least not until I’ve ripped them all into mp3s and probably not even after that. We still need records, just like we still need burgers, cigarettes, Bacardi, weed, and an occasional blow job. But humans need more than just vices, we need an occasional blast of rationality and good, clean living. Where music is concerned, we need Napster. Internet-based digital music is like health food—it makes it possible for us to live to be a hundred years old without giving up booze.
So when Napster finally joins Tupac in that great musical oblivion, I sure as hell hope that someone else picks up the slack. If we could depend on its existence, it could help us weed out the Tony Orlando and the Larry Gatlin and the half-dozen Sugar Hill label 12-inches that would only be cool if you decided to start your own retro-rap act. Sure, you’ll still have to keep that moldy old Beatles album that besides being worthless would certainly ruin your needle after only half of “Here Comes the Sun”, simply because you’ve got be able to show that you own an original Fab Four slab. And that’s the point: Digital music is made for the record owner, it gets us off the hook but it doesn’t keep us from continuing to engage in the less socially destructive behavior that we know and love.
Having access to stuff that we don’t really need on the Internet as a sort of musical security blanket will make it possible for us to all live better and have more space in our lives for things like significant others, pets, perhaps even children. And even if you’re not planning on becoming a family man, God knows I’m not, Napster can help continue to fill the space absented by that discarded Perry Como LP, hopefully replaced by something more Johnny Cash or even Orbison-esque. Something better. Something more useful and worth owning. Because Napster allows us to discover, develop a liking for, and even—get this you evil fucking corporate music industry retards—buy more music. Take one look at my music collection and you’ll see just what a sicko I am. I have no choice but to continue to acquire more, even if I have to pay for it, which I routinely do out of either convenience or stupidity (at this point in time, I’m not sure which).
Someday, when the broadband gets wide and wireless enough and the memory gets small and fast enough, our mp3 files will truly become as transparent as our records are opaque, and it will no longer be a pain in the ass to have a great and sufficiently broad collection of music. Until then, I’m still going to be caging my pals records with an eye out for the Twit.