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“I collect just very specific things,” he explains. “I’m a jazz-record collector. I have a huge Sun Ra collection. ä I have almost 200 Sun Ra records, and they’re all different. And that’s my collection. He was a giant inspiration to me, and a very important figure in my life. All of his LPs — the hardest-to-find ones — are generally issues of 300 to 500. He’d make these tiny little runs of records and sell them at the side of the stage. Most of them have hand drawings on the cover or are silk-screened, and they’re absolutely beautiful pieces of art all around.
“As far as I’m concerned, I could lose most of it except for the Sun Ra, and Coltrane, and a few other essentials.” He is unimpressed with his current bona fides. Weinstein tells me that his collection consists of a mere 12,000 records, split evenly between LPs and CDs. “That’s nowhere near as big as some of the people that work for me, some of the pricer guys. Kent Randolph, our master LP pricer, has a collection of about 28,000 LPs that is just mind-bogglingly beautiful. I was deeply into it until I opened Amoeba. And now that I own the store, the stuff is just coming and going all the time. I could get anything I want when I want it. So to an extent, I’ve lost the itch.”
Regis George, 29. Likes classic rock.
Weinstein and many of the people who work for him have instead become collectors of collections. Many of the veteran members of the Amoeba staff will sheepishly admit that they don’t collect as much as they once did, though they’ve inevitably retained the ability to go into minute detail about the 5,000 to 20,000 records they still have “just lying around.” Despite the fact that many here are meta-collectors, their love of records is infectious. All the better to sell you stuff.
More important, though, Weinstein and the employees of Amoeba understand the collector’s psyche. They have insight into the delicate balance involved in collecting, and record collecting in particular — the way a desire for total freedom must be reconciled with stultifying anality. “We have every version of both coming through the store,” Weinstein says. “Being a buyer for 22 years, I’ve bought so many different collections under so many different circumstances. I’ve seen it all, as far as different approaches people have. How they collect. Why they collect. What it means to them. And it’s an identity thing in all cases. It has a lot to do with people’s sense of who they are. It’s a way to show the rest of the world. A lot of people do it with books, some people do it with records. Collections get at it more than anything else.” Weinstein zeroes in on one collection in particular.
Darren Hahn, 29, former drummer for Geggy Tah, currently drummer for Ani DiFranco.
“I recently bought a large one from a very wealthy suburban household in Detroit,” he says. They lived right across the Canadian border. “The woman of the house — the mother of the person whose collection I was purchasing — was into glass figurines and porcelain. Every square inch of the living room, dining room and main floor was filled, floor to ceiling, with glass cases with figurines. I couldn’t imagine . . . You’re not listening to them, you’re not reading them. You’re not even looking at them, are you? I guess if you have a dinner party a few of your friends come over and you say, ‘Wow, well look at this one.’ What’s the point of that?
“Her son was a collector his whole adult life. He was kind of sick . . . Really he was disabled. His parents had a lot of money, so he was able to be a record shopper for a living. They were trying to be as supportive of him as they could given his difficult situation. Over the course of his teenagehood, through his late 30s, he was an avid collector and buyer all over the world. He used to go to Europe, to England and France and Spain, to Israel — all kinds of places — buying everything that he loved, which was mostly popular English rock. From Bowie to the Stones to the Beatles and everything in between. He would basically buy everything he could get his hands on. It was an incredible collection of 30,000 virtually unplayed English popular rock records.”
Barry Wendell, 52, LAUSD substitute teacher. Sings Friday nights at a Jewish temple in El Segundo. Has more than 1,000 albums. “It’s a fairly harmless habit. It’s cheaper than drugs and safer than sex.”
There are things we save and things we throw away . . . You can treat your collection as something that comes and goes. Or you can treat it like a porcelain doll. Some collections evolve. Others are fixed in time, precious.
“That fella from Detroit had passed away literally 11 years earlier, and his family kept the collection intact and well cared for in a dehumidified vault. But eventually they decided they wanted to sell it,” Weinstein says. “There are rare circumstances like this where someone’s life is cut short suddenly and you get this weird, morbid sense of what collecting is all about, how much it’s attached to a living person, and how little it can sometimes mean to everybody else after they’re gone. We’re in the business of redistributing these bits of culture from one place to another, but it never bums me out. It’s an absolute joy. Now it’s going to go back into the world, and everybody who has been looking for this record or that record has actually got a shot at finding it.”