I’m forgetting where I read this and I am paraphrasing, but Sun Ra once warned, “Be careful, the music is listening.”
I know that some judge others by their record collection. When asked “How many records do you have?” the answer obviously is “not enough,” but what can one tell about the collection (or the collector) by merely inquiring as to the amount of pieces contained therein? Is it the kind of size that matters? Not to me.
The reason I bring up the somewhat stern dictate from Ra is that quite often I feel as if I am being judged by my record collection. I sometimes feel peered into, as if an evaluation of my integrity and unbending adherence to completion is being measured.
Sometimes, I walk back and forth in front of a wall of my records, asking out loud, “What have I missed?! How am I failing you?!” The silence is devastating but even as all in front of me remains motionless, a flaw makes its presence known.
The music. Is listening.
There is only one thing to do. I pull down all the different pressings I have of a particular album that has somehow transmitted to me my failure, load them all into an acid-free plastic container, take them to a large table and methodically run the pressing information of each LP against my notes and multiple internet sources to see exactly what I have.
Shouldn’t I just be listening to the record, and not worrying about the small lines of numbers on its label? I can understand why you might ask that. I’ve seen people like you, with your friends and your pets, going places on the weekends, your sparkling conversation filling the air with well-adjusted, mature and spirited effervescence. I don’t have that. I have shame! Yes, shame. The shame of finding out that for years, I have been living a lie, probably several, as I discover how derelict have been my attentions, not even to detail but just to maintaining a modicum of decency, in the gathering of records.
These unimpeachable platters, which stand at the ready, perpetually primed to perform, no doubt feel the sting of my treachery. Any one of them could take the witness stand and soberly attest to my top-to-bottom failure as guardian, custodian and curator. Even my defense team would regard me with disgust and nod at the judge as he decrees that by the strength of the evidence brought against me, I will lose custody of my records and will immediately start serving a life sentence of streamed music piped through those small earbuds that come with a cheap cellphone.
So, what great offense was committed? Recently, during the aforementioned quasi-forensic (no scientific methods used, but a crime investigation nonetheless) examination of all my copies of the first album by The Damned, titled Damned Damned Damned, upon running the information “940 562,” found on the right side of the label, on a pressing out of France, I discovered to my great humiliation that said numbers designate this copy as the second pressing, coming out after its almost identical predecessor, which carries “2C 066-98867.”
How did I not know this? And I have the temerity to call myself a Damned fan? It’s an outrage — a damned outrage, if you will.
You’re right, this is not the time for anemic attempts at humor. I’ve got to meet this head-on. To have a second pressing of this record residing among first pressings, like already chewed gum, without a first-pressing chaperone next to it, is to have the white-gloved inspector come in and with the first deployed index finger come up revealing a tip grievously smudged. Turn in your jersey, hang up your spikes, throw out your mouth guard and, with your eyes not leaving the ground, not one word uttered, exit the arena. There will be no return.
Like an elected official from a red state maniacally scraping the carpet, looking for bits of crack or another way to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, I harnessed the power of the WWW and went screaming to all the usual places, searching for a 2C 066-98867. I found one! Actually, there were quite a few. Forty bucks? I can do that.
After securing the record, and adding a note that it wasn’t for me, because of course I have had one for years, but for someone who I thought could use it, I beat myself with a stick, returned the Damned albums to their proper place, apologized to all the other records and, while bowing, exited the room backward.
I have no justification for my obsessive interest in these pursuits. The only thing I can offer to ward off the slings and arrows of adults who toil in the real world is that I actually listen to all these records and keep track of which one was played, as well as the date and time. In fact, I often plan ahead. For instance, on the 21st day of this month, a Friday, I will listen to a U.K. pressing of The Idiot (A side matrix: PL 12275-1 – A SIDE (IGGY POP) ? A1D), and a U.K. pressing of Lust for Life (A side matrix: PL-12488-A-2 A1B ? IDiOT). Why? Because on that day, Iggy Pop will have triumphed over 70 years of life and I think it will be a great way to rock.
Yes, I’m fully aware of how utterly ridiculous all of this is, and believe it or not, am able to separate myself from this insatiable hunger for acquisition to register the overwhelming absurdity of all this flailing about. It is as close as I get to the idea of fun without fearing I am letting myself slip. Fanatic is as Fanatic does.
Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
White America Couldn't Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day
Bowie's Blackstar Is on the Level of Low and Heroes
No Matter Who Wins, America Is Only Going to Get Angrier