“I WANT! I WANT!”

I have been trying to put all my compact discs away neatly in alphabetical order, and the very dullness of doing this made me think . . .

When I was collecting records in my late teens (before CDs and cyber-space) the music I could obtain was narrowly defined by fixed circumstances: money was one, availability another.  Originally what I heard and could possess was limited to what was played on the radio; what records were available from department stores and the Salvation Army; the records my friends had, and not much more.

Eventually my horizons (but not necessarily my fortune) blossomed: there were wonderfully enticing record stores on and near Eighth Street in New York City; I could send money off to “Tony’s” in the UK for treasures unheard and unimagined. 

But it was nearly impossible to get more than a sampling of the work of an artist or band, so that when I was able to buy a copy of Brian Rust’s two-volume JAZZ RECORDS, I began checking off the performances I had copies of.  I still have those books nearby, their bindings worn through being handled and loved and held. 

So underneath listening and acquiring was The Quest.  Occasionally there would be a jazz rescuer on the horizon — say, the late Jerry Valburn, who put out record after record containing performances that had been marked “rejected” in Rust and performances no one knew existed.  And it moved listeners like myself closer to the elusive goal of “having it all.” 

“Having it all” became easier through vinyl box sets and European issues — for instance the French CBS Ellington two-record sets or the French Victors, which I bought earnestly.  

Oddly, though, although the music was delicious, I would often play those records once or twice and put them on my shelf, where their spines were very fulfilling to look at: I was that much closer to having it all, complete! 

If I woke up seized with the desire to hear the two takes of STARS, to pick the most esoteric example I can now think of, they were there, on the shelves, ready to be played.  That was comforting, although I can’t think of playing STARS more than once or twice.

With box sets, as well, I knew but didn’t want to admit to myself that the allure of completeness was different from listening to the music.  Would I ever sit down and work my way through (note the language of obligation) the entire output of Fats Waller and his Rhythm, although I loved Fats?  Not likely, because the sheer imposing bulk of that collection quickly began to feel like homework.  “Uh oh, I’ve been bad and neglected my aesthetic responsibilities; I’ve got to listen to 1939 before nightfall or I won’t get any supper.”

Forward to 2010, where CD collections and internet access are both so taken-for-granted that the idea of not being able to hear a particular performance for twenty years seems fascinatingly, weirdly antiquated . . . . when we are able to buy all the recordings of Louis or Django at one expensive shelf-filling gulp, do we listen to them completely?  Or are we perversely overawed by the completeness, the profusion? 

I love the Mosaic box sets I’ve bought and would fight to keep them, but the experience of having them, gazing on their spines, and listening to them is somehow different than the Quest of my teens, where hearing on the radio one three-minute track I did not know about was an illuminating experience. 

The extension of this idea, of course, is the spiritual balancing act: in one hand you hold Everything; in the other Just One Thing — and I am reminded of my conversation with a musician who is now eighty, who talked about being able to buy one 78 record a week, so it had better be perfect.  I am sure that had he, in 1944, been able to visualize the Complete Art Tatum Solo Performances in one package, he would have seen it as a wondrous mirage.  How does it make us feel, I wonder.  When our wants are gratified, will we be happier?

17 responses to ““I WANT! I WANT!”

  1. When I was receiving an average of five LPs a day, I gave up on storing them according to artist or genre—doing so meant that I constantly had to shift them to make room for new arrivals. The solution was to store them in the order they were received, give them a library number, and enter them into a database. It was a boring grind until I finally got caught up and only had to enter new arrivals.

    As for Jerry Valburn turning you on to unissued/un-cataloged recordings, I bet some of his information came from the hundreds of test pressings he stole from me. Sometimes compulsive collecting makes otherwise nice people do rather ugly things, even to their “friends.”

  2. Hi Michael
    I am 78yrs old and began my 78rpm collection in my teens. In the 50s it was 10″ & 12″ LPs, then Tapes ,Cassettes, Videos and I loved them all!
    I had Louis,Bix, Condon Gang,Duke,Basie, Tatum,Billie,Pres,Ben,Bird,Art Pepper…….you know the way things were.
    I loved the ‘feel’ of LPs almost as much as the sound, readable liner notes, great cover art etc,etc. The 78s,tapes and cassettes are long gone but not the LPs.
    After many years of loving… along came CDs and I just could not go along with the blurb that the above artists sounded better on them….and I felt that I needed another format like I needed another hole in my head!
    I decided not to go along with them and have never regretted it. I would say that I dont feel that I have missed too much in the CD era comparable to the above artists and their like.
    It’s a lovely feeling to be content and also be able to find what I want to hear on the shelves without too much trouble. It’s cool!
    Keep swingin’
    Jim Lowe.

  3. Bill Gallagher

    Did I write this post or did you?

  4. Great minds think alike!

  5. As a record collector, mainstream jazz fan & classical music-lover w/ about 4000 LPs & an equal number of CDs, I feel your pain. In his engaging ’03 history of the collecting mania, To Have & To Hold, Philipp Blom makes the point that the quest for a complete set of cherished items is an attempt to impose order on a chaotic world. The search has its challenges & satisfactions. But if the profile in last Monday’s Times of British editor & author Diana Athill is right, another pleasure awaits us: that of liberation toward the end of life from so many possessions. At age 91, the writer left her apartment, stocked with books & art, for an “old person’s home” where she felt surprisingly liberated not only from domestic chores, shopping, laundry & bills but also from all the belongings she no longer needed. Meanwhile, those of a little younger can pursue our passion for legendarily rare records, especially if we’ve managed to arrange for eventual disposition of our library. And there’s always the example of my friend who says that if he can’t take it with him, he’s not going.

  6. I want to have the time to listen to my existing collection. Then I want everything else!

  7. First of all: very sorry about not answering in english, if it worths , maybe you can translate it, but I feel here’s the answer about today’s article:

    ¿Porqué tener muchos discos?

    No hay razones ni del orden de la necesidad ni del orden de la acumulación. Simplemente otorga cierta tranquilidad saber que uno convive con ellos, que están creciendo, y que envejecen con uno.
    La tranquilidad tiene que ver con el conocimiento absolutamente preciso de que existe un destiempo entre el ingreso de una o varias unidades a la casa y el disfrute definitivo.
    Existen ocasiones en que el lapso posible entre el disco ingresante y su disfrute profundo es muy prolongado.
    Las razones por las cuales uno se topa con determinado cuarteto para cuerdas y empieza el buceo en sus profundidades son, a veces casuales, y hay que saber respetarlas así como vienen. Puede dispararlas un simple reojo en una vidriera cualquiera, 2 compases aislados de algo vagamente evocativo, un determinado color repentino que remite a una tapa semi olvidada.
    De repente el encuentro se produce, cara a tapa, y no se vuelve atrás.
    La cantidad facilita este procedimiento algo aleatorio.
    Mañana, no pasado, mañana a lo mejor coincide el estado de la mente con solo un puntual y determinado momento de la obra de Sonny Rollins, y es una gran cosa que esté en casa para mordisquearlo.
    Se sale de ese momento a veces rápido y a veces de modo irritantemente lento.
    Saber que están ahí, a disposición, como remedio, como estímulo, como interminable aprendizaje, como bálsamo, como la garantía anti tedio, como la garantía de una vida plena, como vicio, es absolutamente movilizador.
    Tengan muchos discos, y jamás especulen con la posibilidad de escuchar todo todo el tiempo, ni especulen en sacar absurda cuenta de si habrá tiempo para oírlos.
    Si el momento adecuado llega, tomarlos del estante es lo máximo.

    Fernando de la Riestra

  8. Like Bill, I found myself thinking “Hey that’s me!” as I read your thoughts. The other slightly sad part of having it all – it dawned on me after a decade or so of compulsive collecting that it was, to say the least, highly unlikely that I would ever again experience the sheer ecstatic thrill of hearing my first Hot Five, say, or Red Hot Peppers record. When we were both aged 15, a friend of mine named David Cox and I sat for about thirty minutes after school in an “audition booth” at Rhythm Agencies in Reigate, Surrey, playing the 78 of “Black Bottom Stomp” and “The Chant” over and over until the manager threw us out…… hadn’t heard of Rust in them days, knew no-one older who was knowledgeable about jazz, and only picked the record out to listen to because the band name and titles sounded intriguing.

    Ah, the sweet bird of youth!

    Mike D.

  9. I’m with books the way you are with records and CDs and I have thousands of them. They are good and loyal friends, but I’m now feeling eager to pass them along and find new friends, not necessarily the kind you put on shelves.

  10. Edward N. Meyer

    Michael,

    I WANT, I WANT took me back to a place that I remember fondly.

    At some time in the mid-80s, my Mother was exhibiting her paintings at the Greenwich Village Art Show and I had gone along to help her carry things and set up. Once the show started, I wandered off and, on one miraculous day, I came upon a record store on Broadway, somewhere around 8th Street.

    It had bins upon bins of new and rare LPs, still wrapped in their plastic protectors. Many of them came from Europe at a time when records from overseas were almost impossible to get. I was in my Fats Waller phrase and I had been able to purchase two 5-LP boxed sets, titled the Fats Waller Memorial that had been issued on French RCA. However, there were 24 more LPs also issued on French RCA, containing the rest of Fats’s RCA recordings that I had never seen.

    And suddenly, THERE THEY WERE! Pristine, new, and mine for the taking.

    I scooped up as many as I could carry at one time, walked up to the counter, laid them down in front of the proprietor and handed him my American Express card. He said “No.” Undaunted, I gave him my Bankamerica card (as Visa was then called) , to which he again said “no” and, as I was reaching for my Mastercharge card, he said “We don’t take credit cards and we don’t take checks. We only take cash.”

    I was beside myself. What if I left some behind and someone else bought them. And, as if he was reading my mind, the proprietor said, “They have been here a long time, they’ll be here when you come back.” I came back, several times, and collected all of the Fats Wallers and a lot of other things.

    And yes, I only played most of these treasures once or twice. But, I knew that I had them and, in a few cases, I had them ALL. That was enough.

    CDs and the Internet make the task of collecting easier now. And my interests and wants have narrowed over time. Still, the thrill of finding something that I had never expected to get still brings on a rush.

    Thanks for reminding me of a good time long past.

    Ed

  11. Andreas Kågedal

    I am also a small time collector. I have all the french Chronological (or “Chronogical” as it was spelt on the cover) Jazz Classics for Duke Ellington up till the early fifties. (som thirt CD:s I think). And I agree with everything you write.

    But for me it is interesting to reflect on what will happen will collecting music in the new era of internet etc. With the new “streaming media” sevices on the net, such as Spotify and Rapsody, you can play what ever you want, instantly. There is no point in downloading a file, or buy a CD and put on your shelf, just in case you want to listen to it later. When you need it you can quickly get it. Example: Whenever you mention a tune here on the blog which I don’t remember hearing, I can just go to Spotify and listen to it. Directly. With the original artist. This is what all the young folks do, but as it turns out, I still order a CD anyway…

    /Andreas

  12. Neat thoughts. The way I’ve heard that quandary summed up before is that “the opposite of desire is more desire.” Was thinking about it a bit last week when I realized that picking up the new Ellington Mosaic set means that I’d have nearly all his studio recordings (have somehow never stumbled upon a copy of “All American In Jazz”). Made me question my “motives”–whether I’m enjoying the acquisitive process more than the sounds. Although, even those lugubrious meditations didn’t give me a moment’s pause when it came to snatching a somewhat dodgy looking (featuring “Harry Carne, Juan Tito & Jimmy Grissim”) disc of Ellington at the Blue Note 8/6/1952 from the bargain bin this past Saturday. And driving to work today, listening to the band in fine fettle with Ray Nance singing Don’t Get Around Much Anymore slightly off-mic, my motives didn’t seem to make much difference at all.

  13. NO!!!!! When “the thing itself” is too many things, it’s impossible to focus. My one Commodore record of Jelly Roll and Ballin’ The Jack by the Condon Mob was my Pee Wee lesson for a year! Good days!!! Cheers, Michael!! Bob

  14. I love your essays about the history of jazz in your life, Michael, and the comments you get are wonderfully thoughtful and smart and interesting …
    great stuff! I’ve never been a serious record collector but I’ve certainly gotten obsessed with finding records over the years. I remember in the days of old sending letters (actual hand-written letters!) to stores in London and other far-flung places … trying to track down … whatever … (I can’t imagine how I even FOUND those stores before the internet invaded my life!) … and these days I’m furious if I can’t find what I’m looking for in 5 minutes.

  15. John Johansen

    A wonderful post- I too can relate! The irony is, the less you have, the more you appreciate and savor something and yet at the same time become obsessed with getting more!

  16. As a compulsive collector of my favorite musicians, I understand this.
    When I bought Stanley Dance’s record collection I got a complete run of Earl Bostic on King. Bostic remains a favorite of mine. But space to house everything by all my favorites is a continuing problem.
    So that fact created another more difficult question: Now that I have it all, what should I keep?

  17. Sorry for looking and responding so late, but I can translate the Spanish response. This is the exact order that Fernando placed the words, so please be understanding:
    Why have many disks?

    There is no reason or need to order or the order of accumulation. Just give some comfort to know that you live with them, they are growing, and aging one.
    The peace has to do with knowledge is absolutely necessary that there is a timed between the income of one or several units at home and enjoy the final.
    There are times when the space between the disk possible entrant and is very long deep enjoyment.
    The reasons why one comes across certain string quartet, and began diving into its depths are sometimes casual, and you must know and respect them as they come. You can simply shoot them sideways in a window either, 2 bars of something vaguely evocative isolated, one color suddenly referring to a top half forgotten.
    Suddenly the meeting comes face to cover, and no turning back.
    The amount makes this procedure somewhat random.
    Tomorrow, not last week to best match the state of mind with just one point and one point in the work of Sonny Rollins, and is a great thing to be home to nibble.
    It then leaves sometimes fast and sometimes so annoyingly slow.
    Know they are there, available as a remedy, as a stimulus, such as endless learning, such as balm, as a guarantee anti boredom, as the guarantee of a full life as a vice, it is quite motivating.
    Have many records, and never speculate on the possibility of listening to everything all the time, nor speculate on absurd take account of whether there will be time to hear them.
    If the right time comes, take it off the shelf is awesome.

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